The city of al-Fustat was an important economic centre in Islamic Egypt, and excavations in differentparts of this ancient city have proven how diverse the economic activities there were. One particularly unusual archaeological find was a dye-facility, discovered by a French project working there in the1930s. When plans for the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) were underway, the dyefacility was taken into account, and is now – still in situ – in the museum'scourt yard.
The dye structure dates to Fatimid Period (A.H. 297–567 / A.D. 909–1171), based on the recovery of pottery sherds with a metallic lustre, that were characteristic of Fatimid Period. It has parallels in Morocco, which were instrumental in understanding how it would have once worked.
The structure consists of three rows of semi-circular basins made of red bricks. Each of the round basins is approximately 80cm in diameter and 70cm deep.
On the northern side of the dye structure, there are two rows of 10-red brick rectangular basins that were probably used to stabilize the dyes. According to the examined samples from the basins, thefacility proved to have been be used for dying both the textiles and leather.
The dying process was carried out in several stages, starting with processing the raw material meant to be dyed, whether fibres, textiles or leather. The raw material is then soaked in acid to soften it.
Afterwards, it is soaked in plant-based dyes until it absorbs the required colour. This process may be done once, or can be repeated to obtain darker shades or more diverse colours. After obtaining the desired colour, the fibres or leathers are left on surfaces to dry before being made into the final product.
Recently, a team of Egyptian archaeologists began digitally documenting the dye structure,
creating 3D photogrammetrical models to be better able understand the structure, its
building techniques and to be able to present to visitors in a more dynamic manner.