New Moroccan Handicraft Complex Replaces Polluting Fez Tanneries

tannery, Fez, Ain Nokbi handcraft, pollution, Lalla Yeddouna Square, medina, Sebbou river, coppersmithWhile the rest of the world is beguiled by Walmarts and Targets, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has given a $39 million handicraft complex in Fez his royal seal of approval.

Recognizing the value of authentic handmade crafts sought after by tourists in particular, not to mention the job opportunities that accompany such a vibrant cottage industry, Morocco sought assistance from America’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to resettle an entire community of coppersmiths and tanners in a modernized complex that has less of an environmental impact on the Sebbou River. 

The new Ain Nokbi handicraft complex in Fez, one of the oldest Islamic centers in the world, was partially constructed as an antidote to the severely contaminated Sebbou River.

Previously, byproducts of the Lalla Yeddouna Square craft center, where men have been tanning hides and working copper for hundreds of years, ran directly into the city’s water supply – causing a tremendous hazard.

Suggestions to clean up the ancient medina were met with cries of protest, and understandably so. Despite their environmental impact, copper and leather crafts that have sustained thousands of families that have grown up alongside this UNESCO world heritage site.

Instead of dispossessing the craftsmen altogether, a more sophisticated urban intervention was necessary.

“The complex includes 235 copper ware production units, three areas with 272 workshops dedicated to sub-contractor craftsmen, including 78 workshops for craftsmen of the Lalla Yeddouna Square who area beneficiaries of the relocation,” according to Bernama – Malaysia’s national news agency.

A market for raw leather and a traditional tannery were also built, giving artisans a much-needed boost that will allow them to improve the quality of their crafts.

MCC and Morocco essentially split the cost of the Ain Nokbi handicraft complex in half.

Other historical sites in the city, such as Chemmayine, Sbitriyine, Staouniyine and El Barka fondouk, also received an upgrade as part of the restoration project, according to Bernama.

A synagogue has also been restored as part of a national plan to ensure all of Morocco’s synagogues are upgraded out of deference to country’s longstanding Jewish history.

This project generated 1,250 jobs.

Image of Fez tannery © Barbara Blanchard for UNESCO WHC 

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