The Tanneries of Marrakech……..
Firstly before I begin I must give a little warning about this post it’s not for everyone, espeacially those of you who have particularly strong feelings about the use of animal skins for the production of leather goods. I’m afraid this post is definitely not for someone with those kinds of sensibilities, I would like to advise you to kindly switch to another post about a subject that will make you happier
And for anyone else who remains I will continue with the gruesome details of my trip to the tanneries………
Gruesome? I hear you ask what could be so bad about a visit to the tanneries?
A few months ago I started to design my own babouche collection for Kaftan Queen, and as the sales began to multiply, I needed to take a different approach to the sourcing of my leather. As much as I loved my trips into the little leather souk I stared to find that meeting my larger orders with uniform leather finishes and colour was becoming increasingly difficult.
So as time went by I needed a better source. As luck would have it I was introduced to a very kind man who invited me to meet a man who can……….
So off we set to the very back of the Medina as we entered through this particular Bab I wondered to myself why I had never approached the Medina from this angle before. As we drew up we found hundreds of skins laid out drying in the midday sun, along with a few guides and about a dozen tourists As I stepped out of my car and watched the tourists enter one of the little alley ways I wondered where they were off to, so I asked my companion where they were being taken and he explained that was the path to the tanneries where they treated the skins before they were dyed. I suddenly remembered a book I had seen with fantastic photos of the tanneries in Fez Medina. Huge stone holes filled with all the rich natural colours of the earth, each one ready for the skins to be dipped and tinted.
Umm……I thought I must get a photo of that ………….and wondered again why hadn’t someone told me about this before…
Business first off we go to meet our leather technician who takes great pleasure in giving us a very long drawn out tour of his place showing us the huge turning drum where he dye’s the skins (it looked somewhat like a medieval washing machine) which soooo didn’t interest me because it sooooo didn’t resemble the cool pool’s of colour that I had seen in the photo’s of Fez Medina. I sneered at this industrial version.
Next comes the pressing machine that looked like an old fashioned mangle, used in my grandmothers generation as a hi tech laundry appliance. He told me about his diplomas and got totally technical about how to perfect the art of tanning leather in his very technical French terms. Me being a complete heathen just wanted to chose my colour combo’s and find out how long it will take to produce them, pay and leave because all the while I’m curious to see what was down that alley. I’m fantasizing about those quaint old wells filled with every natural hue the earth has to offer, like over sized ink wells filled to the brim saffron and ochre pigments.
Oh I was getting very excited about what fab photo’s I was about to take…………
As we leave I can’t resist it any longer. My companion says he will wait in the car. I grab my camera and as I walk briskly down that alley I start to smell a peculiar smell, its a bit like fish, further along the narrow winding street the smell is now getting stronger….now its like fish but there’s this kind of acid vibe that’s burning my nostrils……….as I finally hit the vats which by the way contain nothing more than an insipid blue coloured liquid (worse than colour of washing up water, worse than the colour of vomit) which is clearly the substance that’s committing this assault on my nasal passages. I immediately start to understand why no one has ever recommended I come down here, the smell is so putrid that its making me want to heave.
I just manage to get a couple of shots before I have to leggit back down the alley A.S.A.P…. you know that gruesome stench stayed with me for hours.
Another thought came to me as I was legging it out of there, if this is how it smells on a cold January day WHAT must it be like in August when it’s 40 odd degrees…
So Please do not ignore my warnings. If you are ever invited to visit the Marrakech tanneries please decline,otherwise you and you alone will be responsible for committing a serious crime on your nasal passages.