Morocco & Two Fascinating Tours: Fossil Tables & Beautiful Leather Jackets

When I was in Morocco, we visited some truly fascinating places. I wish I could have put you in my pocket before I left and taken you on every inch of this trip. At least I can share those parts that I think you’ll find interesting or maybe even helpful.

Whenever I do share something from my travels, I always ask myself, is this something I would find interesting or fascinatingย even if I didn’t really have a lot of interest in travel? Is this a topic that’s “post worthy?” The two places I’m taking you today pass the post-worthy test and one even has some cool ideas you can use in decorating or furnishing an outdoor space or in the renovation of a bathroom in your home.

When we were in Fez, after walking all through the Medina, an amazing well-preserved medieval city dating back to the 12th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we stopped by a local factory where they produce leather purses, coats and other leather goods. You know you’re about to experience something very different when your tour guide gives you a large stem of mint and tells you you’ll need to press it to your nose for part of the tour! lol

We climbed and climbed and climbed the steps of the tannery, winding our way to the top of the factory for the best vantage point. Once we reached the top of the building, we stepped out on the rooftop area and looked around. This is what we saw: part of the ancient medieval city of Fez spread out in front of us.

 

At first there was no need for the mint, then the winds shifted and the worst smell ever wafted in. O.M.G! Where’s my mint?! The best way I can describe the smell was it was like a rotting, dead animal (or 20) was somewhere nearby. Thankfully the mint pressed against my nose almost completely hid the obnoxious odor.

 

Why had we climbed all the way to the top of the leather factory? Our guide instructed us to look down and there below we saw lots of small pits filled with various colored solutions.

 

These are the pits where the leather is dyed before it’s turned into coats, shoes, bags, etc… If I’m remembering correctly, the section on the right where the solutions are very light in color is where the leather is pre-treated before dyeing. I think the really stinky part of this process occurs there because our guide told us that the hides are soaked in a solution that includes pigeon droppings which helps soften and prepare the leather so it will accept the dye. That awful, awful odor we were smelling was from the pigeon droppings. Ugh!

 

As I looked down at the people working in this area of the tannery, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone ever slips and falls in. I bet it wouldn’t take very long to scramble back up and out! Our guide told us that the process is still the same as it was so many years ago and natural vegetable dyes are still used in the dyeing process: Mint is used for green, Indigo for blue, Poppy Flower for red and Cedar Wood for brown.

 

He asked what color we thought was the most expensive to create? My fellow travelers yelled out various answers but none of them were correct. I guessed yellow because it just seemed like it would be a hard one to create in a pure, sunshine-yellow color. That turned out to be the correct answer. Our guide said in order to make a yellow coat, they have to use Saffron which is very, very expensive.

Photo from Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron

Our tour ended in one of the rooms where they store many of the coats they ship out to stores all around the world.

 

Several of my fellow travelers purchased beautiful coats and leather ottomans. I didn’t, though I was very tempted.

 

A Visit to Manar Marble

On another day of this Moroccan adventure, our tour guide took us to Manar Marble, a factory/shop in Erfoud where they create beautiful furniture and stone products for the home and garden. The neat thing about the stone they use is that it’s filled with ancient fossils! Morocco has vast amounts of this type stone which dates back to the Devonian Period of the Paleozoic era around 360-410 million years ago. (Read more about that HERE and HERE.)

Since there’s so much of this type stone/rock all throughout Morocco, companies are allowed to apply for a license to mine it to create unique, one-of-a kind products.

Our tour started outdoor where our guide gave us some information about Morocco’s geological history and showed us some of the rock that they have on hand…basically the raw material that they use to create the exciting pieces that they make.

 

I don’t remember the names of all the ancient fossils but they were truly fascinating to see. It was so amazing to think these creatures once lived right here. The rock on the right is full of fossils, but they are hard to see when first mined and the rock is dry and in its natural state.

 

But when you wet the rock, the fossils magically appear! Our guide poured a bit of water down this rock and the fossils revealed themselves!

 

Here’s a chart showing a few of the fossils that can be found in Morocco.

 

After some background history about the intense process of carving out around the fossils to bring them out in 3-D form…

 

…we went inside the factory to see some of the beautiful pieces they’ve produced for homes and gardens. All the items you see below have been made from rock filled with fossilized creatures. Each piece is truly unique and a one-of-a-kind.

 

The fountains were gorgeous and would be amazing in any garden setting. I was especially taken with all the beautiful tables. Imagine this table outdoors in a seating group in front of an outdoor rock fireplace. This truly is an antique! ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Another beautiful and unique table…

 

The various designs we saw were amazing!

 

I really loved them all. I took their business card since they ship all over the world. If I ever have a back yard that’s great for an outdoor space/seating group, I would love a beautiful fossil tableย in that space. Of course, these could be used on a porch or inside, too.

 

Imagine renovating a bath….

 

…and including a sink like this! My camera made the sink look like it’s set really far back, but in the photo above you can see it’s not that far back.

 

Several days later we drove out to an area of the Sahara Dessert where we hopped out and went on a short hike. There are areas of the Sahara where the landscape almost has you wondering if you are on the moon.

 

Truly fascinating…the diversity of the Sahara landscape!

 

While walking around, we could see tons of fossils in the surrounding rock.

 

They were everywhere!

 

I only purchased three souvenirs on this trip: a wood camel for my oldest grandson, a beautiful bowl made in a tile factory that we toured (shared a photo of the bowl on Instagram HERE) and this heart-shaped, stone box below from Manar Marble. I can’t remember the name of the fossils in the stone of my box. I need to do some research to figure that out. The one on top may be a type of ammonite.

 

Currently it’s holding some of the dirham coins I had left over from the trip.

 

Hope you enjoyed this little pocket tour as I bring a bit of Morocco back to you!




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Comments

  1. Oh my goodness, the fossil tables alone would make the trip worth while for me! I have to show this to my husband!

    My great great grandfather was a tanner back in the day, and they used urine to tan hides. I remember my grandmother talking about the smell! She said she also remembered really lovely smells when they used rose oils and other beautifully scented emollients to scent fancier things like ladies gloves.

    Thank you so much for the glimpses of your trip, I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • I’m so glad…makes my day to hear you enjoyed this!
      Oh my goodness, I bet that smelled about as bad as the pigeon poop did. lol Rose oils sound much nicer. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Thanks, Tammy! The tables were amazing! I would love to have one in an outdoor space or on a porch. They certainly would have no trouble standing up to the weather!

  2. What a fascinating trip! The tours are so interesting. I hope you order a coat; they’re beautiful! the souvenirs you selected are very pretty and meaningful. Thank you for the guided tour via BNOTP. Congratulations on guessing the correct color.

  3. So interesting and the stone pieces are wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to post. I would probably pass on the leather also – too close to the process for me. I’d rather not know how my animal skin coat is made. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Sherry Stuifbergen says:

    I liked this blog today…so interesting. I doubt I will ever tour Morocco but you gave me insight. Thank you. I like your restraint in buying. The souvenir of the box is nice reminder.

    • It’s so hard when you’re traveling…you want to bring something home from every place you visit. So I try to just focus on a few special things. Besides, I always pack my suitcase so full, there’s not room for much else! lol

  5. What a fascinating post. Pictures are so interesting, and I know what you mean by the smell, we had a tannery about 8 blocks from our home, and when the wind was just right….peeeee-uwwwww! Grins, love the fossil pieces, and such interesting designs. Grins, I bet you loved your trip, Sandi

    • Thanks, Sandi! It was so much fun! I would definitely recommend the trip to anyone interested in seeing that country.
      Yeah, I don’t think I’d ever want to live near one after smelling that one during the trip. lol

  6. Sheila Sexton says:

    Hi Susan, I bought almost the exact marble box, only a round one, it looks so pretty on my table. We were ther in Feb. so I guess the smells at the tannery weren’t too bad, gets worse when the air starts to heat up I wouldn’t want to be there in the heat of summer lol. It was quite an adventure in Morocco wasn’t it. Oh and I regret not buying a footstool cover at the tannery, the white one, it would have looked so nice. A reason to go back.

    • Oh my gosh! That is sooo cool that you purchased a similar one! I bet you’re right. We had gorgeous weather with temps in the 70’s and not that cold at night.
      Yes, it was quite the adventure. I frankly didn’t enjoy Marrakesh very much. It was sooo loud and crowded. But I loved the rest of the trip. There were parts of Marrakesh I did like and everyone needs to experience it at least once. At least I got to see the infamous Marrakesh Express! I need to include a picture of that in a future post sometime.
      I was tempted by the ottomans and they would have been easy to bring back since they weren’t stuffed. I bet you could contact them and order one, although it would be more fun to pick it out in person.

      • Sheila Sexton says:

        Like you I didn’t enjoy Marrakesh either, I’d heard from others that they preferred Marrakesh over Cassablanca, but I really enjoyed Cassablanca we had two pre-nights there before the tour and did a lot of shopping and went to Rick’s Cafe which was a real highlight of the trip for me. I might see if I can order the cover, it will bug me until I get one lol

  7. All these new details make it an even more amazing trip. Love those fossil tables–so hard to trully appreciate what we were seeing. Mind-blowing is the expression, I think ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Exactly! It really is! I’m discovering that one of my favorite parts of traveling is seeing ancient ruins. Those fascinate me, just as the fossils did!
      When my son was little, I started a rock and fossil collection for him. He loved that type thing as much as I did. I think they are members of a museum that specializes in fossils and minerals and such where they live.
      Anyway, the collection is still here someplace unless I’ve taken it to him on one my drives up. Inside the box that holds his collection is a fossil trilobite. We saw those in the rock during this trip, too. So this was like a full circle moment in some ways. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Fascinating, I truly enjoyed the journey. Thank you for sharing. Funny how things that in another venue would be disgusting such as the tanning process become a part of our understanding of the purpose almost anything used in a particular way might become and is revealed. To all things there is a purpose……….you just have to figure it out…..

    • Exactly! Who knew something like that was part of the leather tanning process! And who was the first person who even though of using pigeon droppings that way! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Truly fascinating. I like the rock in its natural habitat! And just think, we can all ponder on where our leather jackets have been….pigeons-1; humans-0, lol.

  10. No need to go back to Morocco to buy one of those beautiful fossils. They have gorgeous pieces at the Arizona Fossil and Mineral show which happens every year in February. I have purchased some small souvenirs from the vendors, but they have huge pieces.

    Really enjoyed this post and Morocco in on my bucket list.

    • Thanks, Silvia! I’m so glad!
      Oh, that’s so good to know! I bet you have some amazing collections found there in Arizona! Isn’t Arizona one of the states where dinosaurs bones have been found?

  11. So interesting. The tables, etc. are beautiful. Love the box you bought. Could be used for so many things. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Susan, I so enjoy your posts about this trip. It brings back fond memories of our trip to Marrakech. I recall the area of the medina there that housed the dye vats. I also recall that buying leather was tricky because it could have an unpleasant odor. One of our souvenirs were a small set of these wood camels in graduating sizes. We stayed in Riad Orangeraie and the evening dining table was set with these charming little camels trailing across the beautiful cloth. Another souvenir was a pair of antique metal chairs that we had shipped home. Morocco is truly magical, and I’m grateful that I had the experience.

  13. We have some vacation rental apartments in Carcassonne, in the south of France. The interior courtyard used to be a tannery, as in your photo. Now it’s full of flowers. But it’s interesting to know that such things were so commonplace.
    The elevator lobby of my office had a huge fossil in the marble. I used to admire it several times a day. After 9/11 (my office was across the street), I wondered what happened to it, among other things. I was more than delighted to see the fossil intact, a couple of years later, when everything had been restored.

    • How interesting! I guess tanning leather has always been a needed industry.
      I’m so glad they were able to save the fossil in the restoration. I hope you weren’t working on 9/11!

  14. Marlene Stephenson says:

    I never dreamed they would have these fossils there. Very interesting and clever. Thank you these were very interesting facts. Do i want to buy leather anymore?! lol!

  15. What an amazing trip you had! I really enjoyed what you shared. Would you be willing to post the information on that business card? There are those of us who know full well we will never make in to Morocco but would love to purchase from there. That pedestal sink is incredible!

    • Hi Yolie, Sure! Here’s the card they gave me when I asked for one. It also shows their website where you’ll probably find some additional contact info.
      Manar Marble

  16. Susan, thank you for all of the information that you share. I haven’t thanked you but so enjoy all of the gadgets and helpful things you show us and where we can buy things we never knew that we needed.

    • Thanks so much, Goldie! I love sharing the things that I love and find useful and I’m so glad you have found it helpful! ๐Ÿ™‚
      XX

  17. What an interesting post. I love seeing all the sights in Morocco.
    Years ago I saw a program on TV about the tannery in Fez. It fascinated me so much. Their leather items look wonderful.
    I love your purchase from the marble/stone shop. It’s beautiful. How nice to bring back so many memorable gifts from all your adventures!

  18. Anne Shaheen says:

    Always keep a small jar of Vicks in your bag when traveling abroad; the eucalyptis will help breathing through the smells.

  19. Thank you so much for the updates. I absolutely love the choices you have made for souvenirs! They’re so pretty and truly representative of the new things you have experienced on your travels (your grandson is sure to love that wooden camel!!) We’ve recently purchased a motorhome, so our travels will be confined to the ROAD right now, but I sure do love seeing other parts of this wonderful world! Rosie

  20. I love it when the travel bug bites you! You always very generously take your readers along with you. Thanks!

  21. My bucket wish list runneth over after reading this…leather jackets, TOO…franki

  22. Susan I love you stories about you travels. We often find fossils in our yard but not like those. We collected rocks from around the world and used them in the shower base in a guest bathroom I is beautiful when the stones get wet. Thank you for sharing.

    • How cool that you find them in your own yard!
      Oh, I love that idea, Theresa, what a great way to use your collection from your travels!

  23. Donnamae says:

    I know I don’t comment all that often…but I wanted you to know that I really enjoy these travel posts! You do travel to such interesting places…and you have such fascinating back stories! Looking forward to more! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Thanks so much, Donnamae! I love “adventure” travel that takes me to places I’ve only read about in books. My favorite part of this trip will always be the days spent in the Sahara Desert. Loved that so much!

  24. DEB Lanter says:

    Susan, I feel like I’ve been to Morocco from your wonderful pictures…..
    minus the smells! Question? Where are you taking us next? DEB

    • Thanks, Deb! I’m not sure. I usually watch to see what specials/deals Overseas Adventure Travel is running, but I’m itching to go to England with Backroads Touring Co. Unfortunately, they are more expensive. I’m also eager to see more of the U.S. So, I’m torn. Not sure where I’m headed next. It feels good to just be home for now. Dorothy was right, there’s no place like home! ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Dear Susan, You did a wonderful job describing your trip to Morocco. We love to travel so I never tire of hearing travel stories. Soon travel to Morocco will not be so easy. I am so grateful that we were able to see this beautiful country when we did.

  26. Antoinette Wessel says:

    Hi Susan, it was so interesting reading about your trip to Morocco, especially the fossils! I actually bought a similar bowl that you show on Instagram when I went to Tunisia several years go (it was a scheduled stop on my Mediterranean cruise). The design was similar to yours but the color scheme was brown and beige and I currently have it hanging in my kitchen along with other dishes and bowls that I have purchased in my travels.

  27. Antoinette Wessel says:

    Oh, and I want to add that those vendors are willing to negotiate (a lot) with their prices as they don’t want to lose a sale!

    • That is so true! I was indecisive about the large bowl I purchased in a tile shop we visited on another day, since it was so large. As our tour group was starting to prepare to leave, the owner of the shop came down a good bit on the price, so I had to get it. I know you enjoy your beautiful bowl!

      • Antoinette says:

        When I bought my bowl in Tunisia, I didn’t even have that much cash with me (a lot less than what the vendor was originally asking) and I did not want to use my Visa and to my surprise, the vendor accepted the small amount! I suppose he figured a small sale is better than no sale! The other thing that struck me while I was walking through the Tunisian Souk is how bold and pushy the vendors were, some of those vendors actually tried to put jewelry in my hands, hoping that I would buy their product and some of them actually followed me for a short distance trying to make a sale! I have been to Italy (I was born there) and even though some Italian vendors will negotiate with you, they’re not pushy.

        • That’s exactly the way it was in the large cities of Morocco. Our guide warned us about it. I did enjoy seeing the large cities, would have been totally fine with skipping those.

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