POTD: Fez Tannery Worker

Photo of the Day: Fez Tannery Worker

Considering just how popular it is, the tanneries can be difficult to find without help if you’ve just arrived in town. Fez truly is a maze, but if you have a couple days and a reasonably good sense of direction, you’ll be able to fumble your way to most locations without aid.

Amid the labyrinthine alleys of the city, a few clues will let you know you’re getting close to the tanneries. First, you’ve probably been heading downhill for a while (the tanneries are near the river), the smell (pigeon feces and cow urine are major components in the chemical stew used to treat the hides), and lastly, the people who will offer to scam you of your every last dirham guide you to this major tourist spot.

The tanneries will overwhelm you. The legendary smell will knock you off your feet, but shop owners and guides will provide you with a fresh sprig of mint as an antidote to the odour. The sights, sounds and feel of the place are just as piquant. Multicoloured vats of chemicals and dyes host rough-and-ready workers sacrificing some of their lifespan for a the job of sloshing around in noxious potions to treat the skins that will eventually turn into leather.

Largely unchanged for hundreds of years, the history of the place is practically tangible. The methods used on the hides here are the same as they were in the middle ages, and aside from a few modern touches, you could swear you’ve stepped back in time

Most tourists and travellers experience the tanneries from above. Guides will lead you into leather shops overflowing with handbags and poufs, up some stairs and onto a balcony that overlooks the vats. After getting their fill of the vista, visitors are then expected to either tip their guide or purchase something from the shops (and given the Moroccan penchant for the hard sell, consider yourself to have done well if you escape without an unwanted handbag).

This particular photo, however, was clearly not taken from above. If you know exactly which alley to enter, you can make your way quite close to the entrance of the tanneries. You’ll soon be confronted by a manager who may or may not be willing to guide you through the site. If you’re going to give it a try, I would recommend only keeping as much as you’re willing to pay in your wallet and no more. When you’ve already paid your agreed price, they’ll keep trying to extract more cash from you, but if you have no more to give, the haggling ends quickly. Just show them your empty wallet!

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