Visiting the tanneries in Marrakech – why you should do it

The ancient Marrakech tannery where the raw material for fine leather gods is produced is a magnetic draw for tourists because the experience is as fascinating as the smell is pungent.

Some might warn you away from this odiferous quarter of the city but that would be a mistake because, in several respects, the ancient process of producing leather from goatskin and fleeces, having changed little since biblical times, is an absorbing throwback to another era.

Tanners have been around since the city’s founding in 1062 and tanning itself, and the production of leather goods, has remained an important trade ever since. Today, as then, the archaic curing process involves an unpleasant cocktail of elemental liquids (a mix of cow urine, pigeon faeces and acids) in which animal skins are cleaned and cured.

You will see half naked men, standing up to their knees in clay vats filled with this evil smelling mixture, cleaning the fleeces before handing them over to be dyed in different vats filled with other, equally suspicious looking multi-coloured liquids. After this the coloured fleeces are set out to dry in the sun.

In spite of the offensive odour, the tannery district still makes it to the list of ‘top attractions’ for the city of Marrakech because this historic location offers a glimpse into a process so ancient and unpleasant that we can barely believe the reality before our eyes. It is for this very reason that a visit to the tannery is a must.

In the tannery quarter of the souk you will find not only the tannery itself but a host of shops selling a vast range of leather goods, often at highly competitive prices.

One or two particularly well-located shops have balconies overlook the ancient tannery where men toil in primitive conditions to produce articles prized for their beauty, durability and usefulness.

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