Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way straight away. The tannery in Fez has an acrid odour. The strong ammonia smell is due to the pigeon poo they add to the salt and lime to strip the hair from the hides. By tannery, I don't mean a tanning salon where you lie in a tanning bed under artificial lights to induce an artificial tan for cosmetic appearances. The tannery in Fez is a place where they process animal skins using lime, salt and pigeon poo into soft leather to be made into beautiful products.
If you look closely at the photos and video, you will notice the workers dipping the hides into the vats of dye using their bare feet. I assume the skin on their feet is as soft as nubuck leather. Before we entered the tannery to view the process from the rooftop, we were given a sprig of fresh mint to fan before our nostrils to disguise the smell. It worked. It's not a matter of "If looks could kill"; this is all about the knock-out smell.
The tanning process involves washing the hides in a river that flows near the tannery, stripping the hair from the hides, curing the leather with water and olive oil to soften it and then soaking the hides in vats of liquid containing a spectrum of colours that determine the final colour of the product. Pick one; pick them all. Yellows, reds, blues, black and tan. All the dyes are derived from natural plant colours, such as henna, saffron and cedar.
Chouara Tannery | Fez | Morocco
VIDEO: Press To Play (If only we had Smell-O-Vision)
The tanning process: wash the skins, strip the hair, soften & dye
Moroccan Chanel No 5 or Eau De Poo
Depending on your olfactory sensitivity, the smell can be mild to severe.The tannery workers called it Moroccan Chanel No 5. It’s more like Eau De Poo; oh, the pigeon poo. I remember visiting this tannery in 1977 and the memory of the smell lingers to this day. Having said that, I didn’t find it that bad on this visit. The mint helped but the smell didn’t overwhelm me.
What did overwhelm me was the variety and quantities of leather goods displayed on shelves across many levels of the building: bags, jackets, coats, purses, and belts in every imaginable colour and style that will suit just about anyone’s sartorial inclinations. The aroma of the ammonia in the tannery is displaced by the strong smell of leather in the shop from the many leather goods on display.
When required, a worker from one level would move a product up and down the building through a large central opening to avoid the need to run constantly up and down the stairs to provide shoppers with the correct size, colour or style.
You’re going to look lovely in leather.