The odor started of as a faint unpleasant tinge in the air. After a couple of turns through the medina the odor went from being mildly unpleasant to intolerably nauseous. Yet we walked on.
We climbed a narrow staircase to the first floor of a house turned shop . The landing was filled with cut out pieces of leather. A small stout man greeted us with fresh twigs of Moroccan mint. “Smell leaf. Take away bad smell”, he said with a smile that revealed yellowish teeth. We were glad for the mint. The strong flavor once held every close to the nostrils overpowered the nausea inducing smell of raw hide.The balcony of the shop was an excellent vantage point to view the famous tannery at Fez. Below us a dozen men were at work.
The white pits contain lye made of pigeon droppings. It is acidic in nature and hence men who worked those pits were fully clothed and wore high boots. It is said that the smell is so strong that it says with the person. For this reason when an eligible bachelor working in the dye pit is looks for a nice girl he always chooses the adaughter/sister of the manworking alongside him in the lye pit. The logic behind that is that the girl will not be repulsed by the smell. After all she smells it everyday on her father/brother. How considerate!
The multi colored pits contain the dye. All dyes are made from natural elements.
The hides are first cleaned in the lye pits, then washed, all the fur and small tufts of hair removed, dried and then finally dyed.