Morocco at a Glance: The Tanneries

“Hold some mint to your nose!” The tour guide called as we walked past a basket of the green herbs sitting on the edge of a tile fountain. I curiously grasped my dainty bouquet as I walked into the main room. The amount of color was amazing.

If I had wished to see the walls, I wouldn’t have been able to, because of the rows of items made of pure Moroccan leather hung on them. I could see everything from cherry red purses made of camel leather to a row of soft black leather jackets hanging on the walls. There was a shelf of Moroccan shoes in every color of the rainbow. These slipper-like shoes came in all styles, some with simple bright beauty and others covered in elaborate patterns of glitzy beads.

One of our group tried to sit on one of the round leather cushions on the ground – only to fall as it collapsed on itself. Our guide laughed and explained that they were usually stuffed. Three or four would be perfect to spice up my living room.

The guide led us up the twisting tiled stair cases to the second and third story where I could find just about every article of clothing made of leather. Some showcased pieces hung on the wall for our amusement, such as a pair of bell bottom leather pants that someone could have worn in the seventies.

When we approached the top, I realized why we needed the mint that was still in my hand. The foul smell of the animal skins in the tannery was surprisingly strong. However, if I lifted the mint to my nose the fresh fragrance helped push all other smells into the background.

Now on the roof of the building, we walked over to the railing to see what was below. I had seen pictures of the tanneries and the real thing did not let me down. On the ground below, I could see over 70 vats of dye separated only by walls between. It reminded me of what a beehive would look like from the inside.

There were men down there too, balancing on the walls in between the vats pulling out leather or dropping it in. I scanned my eyes across the multicolored pools to a large water wheel that was rotating wool netted to it through the water. On top of the other roofs (most Moroccan roofs are flat) freshly dyed leather lay tacked down and drying in the sun. Scattered like snow on tarps was the clean wool that was ready to be turned into thread.

Our guide explained that the leather went through a long process to ensure that it had the high quality of Moroccan leather. I wanted to ensure that this sight would travel with me back home in person, so I pulled out my camera and snapped a couple pictures of the unique view.

I walked back down the stairs with the group and we are allowed much wanted time to browse through the different leather items. A man explained to me that camel leather is the most sturdy but it is also the most hard – which is why they use it to make durable briefcases. He showed me an example and it surprised me to feel how hard it was on the outside, while being soft within. Sheep leather is the softest but also the least sturdy, although you must remember that all leather is sturdy. They use this to craft the best-selling leather jackets, dainty purses and other soft items. Cow leather is in the middle.

I chose to purchase a pair of soft blue slippers that had white glass beads sewn in a flower pattern. I highly recommend coming to Morocco and seeing the one-of-a-kind Moroccan tanneries!