Istanbul – Tanneries

Near the Golden Gate, just outside the first section of the Theodosian Wall, a highly effective defense system dating from Late Antiquity, the nightmarish, walled-in maze of tanneries exudes a foul smell, described by the great Ottoman traveller Evliya Celebi in the mid-17th century as “pestilential odors.” Leather production, one of the world’s oldest trades entailing a chemical process that turns animal hides into the much less perishable material leather, exposes workers to biological, physical, and chemical hazards leading to asthma, bronchitis, and gastrointestinal complaints. White Mercedes were parked next to rotting heaps of chopped-off tails. White horses passed by, pulling carts of stinking matter. In the buildings, workers loaded the hides into rotating barrels filled with tanning liquor and then prodded them to check the degree of penetration. There was no light, and how they did it remained a mystery. It was as if their bodies had become part of the process. It was the darkest place I had ever ventured into.