July 21, 2016

During our visit to Marrakech, we had the opportunity to visit one of the local tanneries and learn more about the process that goes into creating the well-known leather products that originate from there. If you've ever owned anything leather, this is definitely something you should see!

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We could smell the tanneries before we could see them. This makes sense considering the fact that hides of cows, camels, goats, and sheep are processed there. It's essentially a mixture of decomposing animal flesh and pigeon poop (more on that later). Our guide provided us with bunches of mint to cover up the smell. Dozens of men are standing waist deep in dye-filled clay containers, hard at work in 105 degree weather. It was fascinating to see the work that goes into creating leather products with no modern day machinery in site. And in fact, we learned the methods used date all the way back to medieval times.

Here’s a little of what I learned about the process:

  • Hair is first removed from the animal skins.
  • They are soaked in a mixture of water, quicklime, and salt to remove excess hair and fat.
  • The skins are then soaked in pigeon poop. Yes, pigeon poop. Apparently, the ammonia helps to further soften the animal skins.
  • Next, the skins are dyed using a variety of natural products such as poppy, saffron, and henna.
  • Finally, once the skins are dyed, they are stretched out and left to dry in the sun.

Et voila! There's something about knowing the craftsmanship and process that goes into making those beautiful leather products that makes having them much more enjoyable. 

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