The ancient tannery, Fes

The ancient tannery, Fes
The leather-making process

Preparing the animal skins

  • The ancient tannery, Fes. With the animal skinned, Fes couriers collect and deliver the hides to the tanneries so they still have a full coat of fleece and fur. The first step is to de-hair them, then because it makes it easier to remove the bulk of the fur, each hide is given a quick soak in a chalky, lime water-filled bucket. This has to be the most unpleasant aroma I’ve ever inhaled. Ever! The workers seem immune to it, smiling, laughing and somewhat proud of their role. If it’s any help, all the remaining aromas to attack your nasal passage during the rest of the tour seem almost floral after getting a lung full of this stench. The smell just made me want to puke!

Refining the animal skins

  • To remove every trace of flesh and hair, the tanners soak the skins in vats of a horrendous concoction containing a mixture of limestone, pigeon poo, cow brain & urine, animal fats, fish oils, sulphuric acid and chromium salts. Then, when it all becomes loose after the soaking, the workers scrape the unwanted hairs and fat off by hand. A very messy job.

Softening the leather

  • To soften the leather, the tanners soak them again in another vat of pungent tannic acid. The tanners get ‘hands on’ involved here. As different grades of leather need different levels of softness they’ll jump into the vat and knead the skins with their bare feet for hours until they have the degree of softness they want. They’ll even take their tea breaks in the vats.

Skiving the leather

  • The softened leather is allowed to dry under the sun, until ready to be buffed and polished. This guy spends all day, every day doubled over skiving and polishing these leather skins. And yet he’s still smiling! When he finishes each hide, the leather is ready for the final steps in the process.

Dying the leather

  • The hides in Fes are all dyed with natural ingredients. The tanners use saffron for yellow, poppies for red and henna for orange. Soaking the skins, the tanners give each hide the necessary attention to make sure they’re evenly coloured to the desired shade.


And the only thing left to do…..

  • In the unrelenting heat of the ancient Fes el-Bali Medina, the tanners lay out the hides on the roof to dry. Once dried, the tannery sends the hides to the leather workers and artisans to create the products you see filling shops and souqs all across Morocco.

next –  The Hammam

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