You can smell a tannery long before you can see it. The distinctive odor will occasionally assail your nostrils while you are walking through Fez; most times you will subconsciously speed up your pace to outrun the smell, but one time, you might decide you want a deeper understanding of where leather comes from. Upon entering a tannery, you may be greeted with a sprig of mint leaves (to mask the smell), but certainly the sight of dozens of vats of murky liquid.
The vast array of stone vats are an integral part of the leather-making process. The tannery process goes like this: skins (sheep, goat, camel, or cow) are collected and then soaked in large vats containing quicklime to strip the skins, and pigeon shit to soften them.1After drying, the skins are put into a separate set of vats for dying using natural vegetable colors (indigo for blue, henna for orange, cedar for brown, saffron for yellow, poppy for red, etc). From there, skins are dried again and cut and worked to create the bags, belts, or shoes which line store shelves in the medina and around the world.
Photo : Fez, Morocco / May 2016
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