The Fes tanneries are one of the more fantastical sights in
an already fantastic country. Many centuries ago Fes surpassed Cordoba as the preeminent source of fine
leather. In bookbinding, the term morocco refers to a very fine goatskin leather that is particularly
adept at holding strong dyed color. The tanneries are a far cry from the quiet recesses of a
fine library. The work all takes place outdoors, in open vats that contain a potent swill of
pigeon droppings, cow urine, fish oils, salts, brains and (these days) a few choice
chemicals. Make no mistake, this smells as bad as it sounds. It smells worse in fact. Most visitors come armed with a sprig of fresh mint to hold to their nostrils. I'll have you know that this was impossible for me due to my unrelenting desire to take photos and show you, humble viewer, the sights of Morocco. You are welcome. The work is still done the way it was 1000 years ago. Even the way the work is
done is the same. The (strictly male) tanners at Fes operate in a guild system, with apprentices,
craftsmen and masters. Jobs are passed down through families hereditarily.
The Merenid Tombs, above Fes.
Copyright Estate of Anthony Vail Sloan 2009