The medina of Fez is known for many things, one of them being that inside it’s nooks and crannies are several large tanneries. Despite being somewhat hard to find on your own in the medina (what isn’t?), there are always countless young men milling about the main throughways of the medina who don’t hesitate to ask any foreign-looking person “Yes please, do you want to see the tanneries?” while holding out a business card or two. While it’s never a good idea to follow random strangers into the depths of the medina, it’s actually not a completely terrible idea to let one of these men lead you if you’d like to see a tannery and purchase leather goods (of which Fez has an impressive array).
On this particular day, my friend Jessica and I were on a mission to find leather backpacks with kilim (Amazigh carpet) inlays and allowed ourselves to be dragged around to countless different tanneries in the medina in the search for the perfect one. We didn’t find them that day surprisingly enough (another day proved more fruitful) but we had fun looking over the numerous leather goods and seeing the different tanneries. One thing that was not enjoyable: the SMELL. Tanneries stink like you wouldn’t believe, partly thanks to the fact that pigeon poop is one of the must-have ingredients for softening leather (I’m not making that up). Often the stores where the leather goods are sold have balconies where you can look down on men waist-deep in vats of dyes and leather softener, and the ungodly smell wafting up from below hits your nostrils and makes your eyes water. To alleviate this, a lot of stores provide mint to the customers that wish to brave the balcony, and a few crushes of mint beneath one’s nose will ease the sting of the smell. It’s worth braving the horrible smell to observe the men hard at work bathing camel, sheep, and cow hides in different solutions and hanging them to dry so that they may one day be turned into beautiful purses, duffles, and backpacks.