Useful for travelling
Souks of Marrakech: What to know
From the gardens and royal palaces to the riads, the Red City offers endless charms. But no visit is complete without a dip in the souks. And "dip" it is the proper expression to this total immersion experience. In fact, for some tourists, the whirlwind of emotions may even prove to be overwhelming. So take a deep breath, relax and let us guide you to this intense journey for the senses.
This is the word most often read in relation to the souks. "It is mandatory to bargain", it is an "offense to the seller" to not bargain, etc., etc. Let us tranquilize the most anxious ones: nobody is obliged to do it. Yes, it is true that discussing prices is a culturally important social interaction in Morocco and, above all, a nice way to establish and maintain links between vendors and customers, but if the mere notion of trying to depreciate an object that you like paralyzes you, don't do it. If the requested value looks fair to you, buy it. No one will think less of you for it. If you decide to embark on the game, you only have to have in mind that this is not a hostile act: be always friendly, polite and keep a smile on your face. It is very likely that on the other side of the counter is someone willing to pay back the courtesy. In addition, a visit to the souks is not the equivalent of an afternoon at the mall, although the cleanliness of its streets (point of honour among traders) may look like it.
A journey through senses
We came here also because of the unusual smells, the infinite palette of colours, the exceptional textures, the exquisite patterns and the friendliness, affability and curiosity of people. If you don't master the Arabic language but you speak a little bit of French, feel free to start a conversation. Wander around and release the photographer in you capturing the fine detail of a babouche or a kaftan, or depicting the colourful dishes, mountains of grains or the dreamy forms of glass and iron chandeliers. Try some dates, figs and almonds. Drink a mint tea. Buy a kebab to a street vendor. But yes, if you want to buy gifts for the whole family, as long as it is reasonable, expect an attention in the bill!
Where to go?
The area of the Marrakech souks extends north from the Jemaa El Fna
, which is a kind of pre-souk with a multitude of vendors and aromas of spices and freshly prepared food in the air. Although the souks have different names, which generically identify the products that can be founded there, remember that the borders are floating. It is true that there is no tablets or street names in here, but do not believe in the myth that you can get lost for hours. Although a slight disorientation is always welcome, in case you feel confuse, ask for directions to a seller or a policeman or go back to one of the wider tracks and walk until the end of it. Take the opportunity to recharge batteries with products of the master confectioners that you will find in the way!
What to buy?
For Westerners it is increasingly rare to see craftsmen and artisans producing their own products. A visit to the souks is also valuable for this same reason: hundreds of artists (because they deserve this name) who work here daily, are heirs of their family's traditions for centuries. Therefore, more than for buy souvenirs, this is an opportunity to see and support those working in offices that are almost dead in most industrialized and globalized societies. In this perspective, the souk Semmarine, which is basically the main route of access to this tangle of markets, it's not quite the ideal place to find something truly extraordinary. Indeed, many souvenir's sellers and emporiums for tourists are gathered here, which is why most foreign visitors of the souks feel that they don't need to venture more. However, textiles sold here are of the highest quality. Therefore, if you're looking for pashminas to offer to your friends this Christmas, you can stay here.
Perfumes, colors and treasures
But this street, which begins with an arc, at one point bifurcates, and on your left is the souk El Attarine, dedicated to spices and perfumes (by the way, if you are in search of the phenomenal local argan oil, remember that the darker one is used to season food and the yellow one is the one indicated for cosmetic), and on your right is the souk Smata, also known as the souk des babouches where you will come across a myriad of colours and effects for these peculiar skin slippers, whose, depending on its sole, can be used inside or outside. By the way, if you're looking for bags, belts, wallets and other items made of leather, go to the souks El Kebir and Cherratine, a small paradise for tanneries lovers. In the small Street of Jewelers, you'll find many gems in gold, silver, etc., waiting for you, and in the kissarias (covered souks) there are many clothes to try and fabrics to buy by the meter.
Art, rhythms and sounds
The Chouai and Haddadine souks usually have fewer tourists because of their less portable products (respectively carpentry and iron objects) but it's worth visiting them, even if it's only to enjoy the steady rhythm of the hammering of blacksmiths. If you reach a small square with wool reels and colourful silk fabrics drying on ropes in the sun, know that you're located in the heart of the souk Sebbaghine (or des teinturiers, in other words, the souk of the dyers). But if your passion is music, or you were inspired by the performance of a maâlem of the Gnaoua tradition, one of the most significant spiritual and musical forms from North Africa, go to the souk Kimakhine to buy a qraqeb (metal castanets), a tbal (drum) or a guembri (a three-stringed instrument of the lute family).
Finally, remember that the souks open at dawn and only close around nine p.m. In the hottest months visit them in the morning or in the evening, which also allow you to avoid the crowds. And now go out to explore!