Our first stop in Morocco was the small hillside town of Bhalil, aBerber village just 25 km from Fes nestled into the base of the Mid-Atlas mountains. Cars can only reach the perimeter, leaving foot-worn pathways with cave houses inside each nook and women making silk beads on every corner. The dusty hills leave the village laden with a warm hazy glow which seems to put the town into a dreamy trance blending one day into the next, onlypunctuated by boys playing ball in the paths and the call to prayer echoing from the mosque five times a day.
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As you wind your way deeper and deeper toward the center of the Fes Medina, an unfamiliar and quite shocking smell begins to fill your nose, distracting you from the artistry and craftsmanship crammed into each square stall. The smell is none other than pigeon droppings. Is there an exorbitant amount of pigeons in the Medina? No! The droppings are intentionally brought in to the Medina. Why, you might ask? To tenderize the animal hides of course. The Fes Medina is home to the oldest leather tannery in the world and while the city around it has modernized, the tannery operates basically the same way it has for generations. This includes soaking lamb and goat skin in a solution of pigeon droppings which is heavy in the ammonium that allows the hide to soften enough to absorb the natural dyes made by saffron, mint, indigo, poppy, cedar and henna. While the process is pungent, there is something comforting in seeing old methods preserved and knowing exactly how your Moroccan souvenir took on that brilliant shade of yellow.
Quick, think of the top three things you know about Morocco. I bet for most of you carpets or rugs come to mind. Right? Have you ever wondered how they are made? Maybe not, but we did! We knew that Morocco is one of the few places in the world that still uses traditional methods in a lot of their products, so we sought out to see the step by step process. Step one: Get the wool. And don't worry, no sheep were harmed during this process, although they looked a little embarrassed and cold with their fresh hair cuts.
And finally, the last in the carpet weaving series, we get to see all the elements come together into one of Morocco's oldest art forms.
After the wool is sheared, washed and spun into yarn, the next steps is to dye it. In Morocco much of the wool is still dyed using natural elements and probably the most consistent color you'll see is red. To get the vibrant color, a dye of poppy petals is made. Lucky for us poppy season was in full swing and there is just nothing more beautiful than a field of poppies beneath a stormy sky threatening rain.
Another amazing element of this day was seeing a jib carried out into the field by donkey. These people are nothing short of innovative with their modes of transportation. No road? No problem!
Continuing on with the process of carpet making, we get to see how those beautiful red poppies turn beige sheep's wool into the most vivid red yarn. But first, here some snaps of the outstanding people and textures between Bhalil and Marrakech.
After a couple weeks in the mountains of Morocco everyone was itching to get their feet wet. We made our way to Essaouira, a beautiful and very old walled city on the Atlantic Coast. Essaouira is a very unique town where traditional Moroccan culture intermingles with free-spirited expats from Europe leading to a wonderfully whimsical feeling.