Marrakech Souks and Shopping

Where do you start you trip to Marrakech? Get a taxi to the main square 'Place Jemaa-el-fna'. If you cannot pronounce the name just ask the taxi driver to take you to the Grand Place. The fresh orange juice is to die for! Buy a fresh orange juice from one of the stalls and then enter one of the souk alleyways on the north side of the square.

Marrakech Place Jema‚-el-fna

These are the ones on the other side of the square opposite the big bank. Head for the Marrakech Museum looking at all the shops as you go.  Different sections of the souks specialise in different products. The whole old town is like a giant department store. You go to a certain section to buy that one item you want. One alley is full of shoe sellers, another ceramics, another leather goods, another clothing and so on.

Take it easy and don't overdose on shopping in the souks. Head back for the main square and find a cafe with a roof top terrace and have a coffee or cold drink whilst you watch the world go by. During the heat of the day the alleyways of the souls are cooler than the exposed sections of the city. The souks are normally covered and provide shade and protection from the sun.

The souk shop staff normally eat at their place of work from one large communal plate or pot. They sit or squat around it and eat with their hands. This is not a good time to try and buy something. The individual shops are tiny. There are no storerooms attached to the shop. The shop staff sit outside the shops. This is very much like the shops in Ancient Rome. If you go to the ruins of Pompey in Italy the design of the shops are very similar.

tins of Spice

Some of the goods on sale are shoddy. Check them out carefully. The craftsmen are not encouraged to spend more time making them as they have found that tourists still buy the poorly made items. Most of the locals believe Allah has sent these foreign fools for them to partake of.

Many of the goods are of an amazing quality that have taken many days to make. If you are lucky you will be able to see crafts men at work using the old traditional methods. It is like travelling back in time before the industrial revolution. Carpenters sit on the floor and turn a lave with a string bow and carve wood into chess pieces or handles using a chisel held in their toes. Men can be seen working metal. They first beat it into shape and then apply intricate designs,

Dates and figs in Marrakech

In some parts of the town you can find young women making carpets on big vertical looms. If you are lucky they will invite you to sit with them and have a go yourself. They teach you how to knot the different wools and beat them down. Please give them a good tip. It takes them one month to make one carpet. These hard working girls are not well paid and showing tourists how to weave is one of the ways they can feed their families.

Chickens destined for that evenings meal are sold live. If you look carefully you will also see chameleons, turtles and lizards for sale. You will hear the songs of many birds as you walk around the Souks as many shops have captured song birds in small cages

Try to find the carpet Souk - Criee Berbere, which leads into Place Rahba Quedima, the apothecary square. It is instantly recognisable by the many colourful carpets hanging from the walls of every buildings and shop. This was originally the slave market until quite recently. In 1912 the French finally banned the practice when they took control of the country.

Get a very good map as there are a distinct lack of street signs. Most Hotels will provide you with a local complementary map. One of the best guide books on Marrakech with lots of good quality maps is just called Marrakech by Everyman MapGuides (ISBN 1 84159 073 8) published by Alfred A Knopf, New York

At night the souks are light up with electric light bulbs that reflect off all the shiny items for sale in the shops. The can be very dazzling. Be aware that most of the souk shops close up between 8pm and 9pm. You can get lost very easily.

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