The shop resembles a Grotto, with branches of the Argan tree draped around everywhere, the co-operative women use ancient tooling to hand press the oil from the kernels, then scatter them on the shop floor to create a 'crunching carpet' to walk on.
The oil was too expensive to buy here, so I walked back to the Medina along Rue Mellah and eventually found a shop with jars of Argan cream. The proprietor wanted 40 dirhams for the jar, but I said it was only worth half. At first he refused to lower the price, but as I started to walk away, he shouted me back in annoyance and bellowed..... "take it!"
I got a good deal at 20 dirhams, I think he was desperate for ready cash!
I bought the cream to try it out on my eye circles, with daily use time will tell if it's effective, but it seems to be making an improvement.
What to buy: The oil is sold in bottles of various capacities for culinary use, and also formed into a white cream sold in small pots for cosmetic use.
What to pay: At the Argan co-operative shop, the price of a small bottle was extortionate, when I asked the manager how he could possibly justify this price for such a small bottle, he embarked on a well-rehearsed tirade to extol the discipline and efforts of the local women who should be rewarded accordingly. I lost interest and shuffled off down to the Medina to look for a better deal.
Shops and stalls throughout the Medina. ..........Often in early evening after the heat of the day has subdued, salesmen and women will lay out their wares at the side of a suitable wide street for inspection and hopefully a sale from passers-by. The main Medina street, Avenue Zerktouni is popular for this enterprise, a good place to buy clothing and household utensils, the street can become quite congested in the evenings.
The main Artisan centre is in Place Moulay Hassan, where craftsmen can be observed carving these beautiful objects of art. Everything is for sale and a large notice displays the international shipping costs of the larger items.
What to buy: One of my favourites is sea shells and coral, some of these crustaceans are very beautiful and make attractive standing ornaments. Occasionally, impromptu stalls are set up at the port when the returning fishing boats have dragged up these shells and coral, in their nets, along with the fish catch. As always, prices are negotiable with the vendor........
What to pay: Everything is negotiable, there are no fixed prices.
All the Medina shops display their wares hanging outside the shop, as far as physically possible, to catch the prospective buyer's eye, and entice a visit inside.......
All prices are negotiable, dependent on the haggling skills of the buyer, the first price stated by the vendor is only a starting point, nobody ever expects to pay or receive 'first price!'
Much patience and determination is required on both sides of 'the negotiation'. Ultimately a successful result of which will be both parties happy with the deal, and a shake of hands in conclusion.
Avoid being accompanied by a Moroccan guide on a shopping trip, his or her presence will always augment the 'first price' to include the guide's commission for bringing the client to the shop, typically 10 to 25 percent, depending on the value of the sale. The tourist/traveller will never be aware of the guide's commission at the shop, this covert transaction takes place long after the buyer has gone!
What to buy: There are too many desirable handcrafts to itemise, carpets, rugs, Thuya wood carvings, antiques, silver, clothing, leather jackets and bags, the list is endless........
A very interesting place in Essaouira is Abdallah Oulamines antique-shop, located in Rue de Rif 24.
If you want to see some really unique things, and be sure they really are antiques, it’s worth visiting here.
It’s a great pleasure to talk to Abdallah Oulamine - and hear him tell the story of all the things in the shop. The geographical origin, what it has been used for and sometimes funny details about how and where he found it.
You can learn a lot about ancient Moroccan culture here – what life has been and still is here for many people living here, and of the arts and crafts of the country.
He has a lot of different things: Tissues and carpets in fantastic patterns and colours, pottery, hand-decorated glass, pieces of furniture --- impossiple to mention it all.
A visit can be recommended highly – even if you do not feel up to buying antiques it’s worth just taking a look.
In the craft market of l'Ensemble Artistanal in Essaouira you will find a very special small shop -- the workshop of Aziz and his brother, Houssein. They produce some very fine woven products, remarkable for the good quality and for the fine sense of colours, you will see in the prodoucts.
Aziz is normally present iin the shop, sometimes working, and he is a very gentle man -- likes to tell about the things he makes, very politely - it's really a plesure to talk to him.
The market and the shop is located just inside Bab Marrakech, to the left -- and there are some other shops, worth visiting.
What to buy: Hand woven issues
In good weather a man may be painting, and selling his work, up on the ramparts. He was tucked into the far corner. He spoke some English so we were able to have a conversation of sorts. He posed for me holding the unfinished painting he was working on.
It’s pretty much expected if you go on any sort of tour in a country like Morocco that you will be encouraged to stop at one or more places where local crafts are made and sold, in the hope that you will buy and your guide or driver pocket a nice little commission. We’re used to the drill and usually try to resist going along unless we’re interested in the craft itself – and we never buy! So when Mokhtar suggested stopping at an old Kasbah now used as a carpet cooperative we agreed as we were keen to photograph the beautiful colours of the carpets we had seen hanging beside the road, not because we wanted to buy a rug or carpet.
We were greeted warmly and given an explanation of the different techniques used on the carpets – knotting, weaving and embroidery. Our host (who reminded us a little of Groucho Marx – see photo 2) was very solicitous of my injury, bringing me a chair to sit on and draping it with a decorative wedding cloak. Of course he was – he wanted us to buy a rug. But we weren’t going to buy!
He was a good salesman though. He told us how the shops in Marrakesh would make all sorts of unfounded claims, such as that each carpet took a year to make. How could that be, he asked (rhetorically, of course). The women would never make enough money if they could only produce one carpet a year. No, a typical carpet could be made in just six weeks, working just four hours a day so as not to strain the eyes.
His assistant started to bring out armfuls of rugs and carpets, and again he explained the techniques, the dyes used, the symbolism in the motifs. Gradually a few of them started to really leap out at me – a handful of kilims all in different shades of gold, ochre and terracotta – the shades of the Sahara as our host told us. I looked at Chris who was definitely still in "not-buying" mode. But I was in a strong bargaining position – owed a birthday present and with a recently broken foot! So when I told him how much I liked them he agreed we should consider a purchase, but only if we could get a reasonable price. We settled on the one we liked best and started to bargain. We had already been told that we could take a 15% discount from the quoted price of 3,800 dirhams (just over £300) but we weren’t sure of the etiquette regarding haggling here. It turned out to be perfectly acceptable and, I am sure, expected. Chris emphasised how we had been forced to spend money the previous day on doctors’ bills etc (of course both we and the carpet seller knew we could claim those on our insurance) and eventually our “best offer” of 1,800 dirhams (£144) was accepted. Maybe we could have got it even cheaper? We’ll never be sure, but it seemed a good deal to us and looks great as a throw on the sofa where I sit now writing this tip.
I've visited this Co-Operative on both of my visits to Essaouira. Each time I have bought a bottle of Argan Oil.
The Co-operatives in this area have been established to give economic and social benefits to the women of this rural area, and also to preserve the ecology and economics of the area.
The one I visited employs widowed or divorced women, who would normally have very little income.
Some Co-operatives provide literacy classes, and promote life skills.
Now, the short tour is geared for tourists, and there is a promotion of the goods produced for sale - but I still buy at least one item when I visit.
There is usually a good talk from one of the co-operative women about the process of gaining the oil, then a tasting session.
Production of Argan oil is labour intensive, with much of the process being done by hand.
Berbers have used the oil for centuries, for culinary and cosmetic purposes. They have claimed its medicinal benefits for years, and these claims now have scientific evidence to qualify this.
Argan oil is rich in Vitamin E, Omega 6, Oleic acid, linocleic acid and is a mono unsaturated fat.
Cosmetic use - moisturiser for skin, hair and nails- either as oil alone or in soaps and creams.
helps reduce scarring and wrinkles.
At my 2nd trip here- I was amazed by the skin of the women I saw- Smooth and very few wrinkles- both on the guide and the co-operative workers!
Medicinal - anti inflammatory, lowers cholesterol, vaso-dilator and blood clot reduction, improves the immune system.
The oil is expensive but a little goes a long way. I prefer to buy my oil etc from these Co-operatives as I know that I am buying the genuine article. (and I'm also contributing to their upkeep)
It hasn't been unknown for traders, especially on roadside stalls in the area to sell argan diluted with olive oil, or even olive oil with paprika added to give the characteristic red tinge.
Also, buying here means that money is going towards the women who work here.
Please see my Things to do tips for more info on argan oil and its production
What to buy: Argan oil (culinary)
This can be eaten on toast, it has a slight nutty flavour, added to tagines, used as salad dressing etc. It is probably better used cold, as heating destroys the flavour.
I've read that drinking 2 tbs of this oil for a month helps lower cholesterol, but studies are still ongoing, so not scientifically proven yet.
Argan oil (cosmetic)
This has a more neutral scent. It can be used as a facial moisturiser - to reduce wrinkles and soften the skin.
Nail massage to strengthen nails soften cuticles and hands.
For dry brittle hair, a small amount massaged into the hair and scalp 1/2 hour prior to shampooing improves its condition.
Massage oil to relieve painful joints.
Amlou- a spread made from almonds, argan oil and honey, which is eaten particularly at breakfast, spread on toast. -It's delicious!
Soap, moisturising creams etc.
Well worth a visit!
What to pay: From a few euros upwards. I think I paid 8 euros for a small bottle of argan oil.
Instead of buying a teapot for making mint tea in, from a souvenir/ gift shop. I decided to browse around this hardware shop. Vter Fatepur also wanted one of these, so we entered the shop and soon spotted a selection. The shop keeper seemed surprised to see us, but was very helpful. we chose a tea pot each, which he carefully wrapped in newspaper.
I can't remember how much we paid, but it was less than in the souks of Marrakech, and I'd had a pleasant hassle free shopping experience. The shopkeeper seemed quite pleased too as he waved us good bye.
What to buy: These hardware shops have plenty of useful cheap items.
Teapots, olive oil cans, mint tea glasses, trays, kitchen gadgets etc.
What to pay: From a few dh upwards
Essaouira attracts artists from around the world, either those who've decided to settle here, permanantly, or for a few months, or holidaymakers, who like to dabble.
Many of the shops in Essaouira sell the paintings/ drawings, or you can buy from the artists 'in situ'
If you don't want to haggle, try one of the government run co - operatives.
The Association Tilal des Arts Plastiques (Rue de Caire) features new artists. This is run by Hamid Boutali, who's famous for his satirical cartoon post cards, which can be spotted around Essaouira.
Also check out the old style travel posters depicting Morocco.
What to buy: Street Scenes /costumed people in oils, water colours
Hamid Boutali cartoons
Travel posters (I paid 100dh- but I didn't haggle- you can probably buy for 50 - 75 dh)
What to pay: From very cheap (post cards) to more expensive (large original oil paintings)
Depends on size of painting and your haggling skills!
Thuya trees are unique to this area, the fragrant wood is used in all manner of craftwork. Marquetry work is of a high standard, whether in tables or gift boxes.
This co operative has an area where the craftsmen can be observed working on the various stages of creating their works of art.
The large showroom has examples of Thuya wood work, from pieces of furniture to small key rings etc. There are also other examples of local art such as paintings.
What to buy: Thuya wood marquetry work
What to pay: Prices are fixed, so you can get a good idea of what to pay in other shops, or buy here, where there's a wide selection of quality goods.
I paid 20dh for a Thuya Wood bangle. (2005)
I was drawn to this shop by the warm coloured paintings. I'd intended buying a print or painting from Essaouira, after seeing the examples for sale the year previously.
As I'd spent a night in the desert, and endured an uncomfortable camel ride there from/to Zagora (after which I vowed never to ride a camel ever again!) I thought that the camel paintings would remind me of the experience, and make me smile/grimace each time I looked at them.
The shop owner, (Abdallah Barhiche) spent quite a while showing me lots of paintings by the different local artists.
I'd seen so many that I decided to sleep on it, and promised to return next day.
I did go back, but surprisingly I changed my mind at the last minute, as a street print in white, grey and black caught my eye. I was in a bit of a hurry, as our mini bus was due to leave very soon. A bit of bargaining, until I was happy with the price. My canvas was on a frame, but to make it easier to carry, he removed it from the frame, then rolled it in paper, advising that if the canvas cracked, a bit of water rubbed onto the back should mend it.
Well I'm afraid it's still sitting waiting to be re framed (along with the prints and posters I purchased last year)
What to buy: Paintings / drawings by local artists - all sizes, prices, styles
Before You buy, think if it will go with your decor at home - The bright Essaouira light is very different to the UK etc.
Also, think if you can carry it safely- especially if You're backpacking or touring around. The print I chose was on a frame, but the owner removed the frame and rolled it - even though I was careful, my oil painting still cracked a bit. Consider posting Your print home in a cardboard tube, which I've spotted in other shops in Essaouira
What to pay: From a few dh to a bank loan!
An Aladdins cave of brightly coloured pottery ranging from egg cups and small saucers to huge plates and vases etc.
I had trouble narrowing my choice down, as I still had a few days of our tour, and was afraid that pieces might get broken.
I managed to limit myself to a condiment set in the shape of 3 tagines and an ash tray like the ones I'd seen in some restaurants.
I can't remember how much I paid, but I know it was less than some similar items I saw in Marrakech, and a fraction of the price that I'd have paid back home.
Friendly efficient staff.
What to buy: Tagines, plates, mugs
Huge plates/ Platters and bowls for a fraction of the price in John Lewis etc.
Oh, and bring some bubble wrap in your luggage!
What to pay: From a few dh to as much as You want
Thuya wood is grown in the Essaouira region, so it is no wonder that the shops are packed with a huge variety of products. Some are exquisetly crafted and high priced others are 10dirham souveneirs, What ever you are looking for this shop has everything. Boxes, Tables, Games, Desk sets, Trays..The list goes on and on. Of all the shops in Essaouira selling origianal carvings this has to be the best. Jalile who is multilingual will assist you to ship your purchase back home.
What to buy: Thuya wood Boxes, Tables, Trays, Games, and Carvings.
What to pay: from 10 dirham to 10,000 dirham
the lonely planet suggested that of course lovelly locally made thuya marquetry items make lovely souvenirs with the work reputedly the best in Morocco but that a better idea might be a painting by one of the local artists.
When roaming around one can certainly see that there is plenty available with several gallery shops around and many souvenir shops with paintings clearly available for sale.
Near the covered passageway up to the Skala de la Port we noticed a shop with some interesting looking pieces around the entrance and went in to check it out.
What to buy: We spent over half an hour in this guys shop ending up being enticed by this and that and then it takes time doing the haggling stuff.
We both found some pieces that we liked that we thought would not only be souvenirs depicting what was special to us about Essaouira but also that it was providing some sort of income input to the area and hopefully the artiste that we bought of.
Unfortunately up on the ramparts there were guys painting pictures for sale that we and i like better actually than a piece id bought in the gallery and these guys' were better priced as well.
so why not just buy all of it! almost did i think but i am happy with the pieces i got and provides a bit more of morocco to have at home in England, New Zealand or Australia.
i was able to haggle for two pieces of a woman artist i think copying a style that i saw in an actual art gallery but i really liked her two pieces that didnt have the evil eye depicted all over it, for 140 dirham. then a larger painting together with leather art piece also for 250 dirham. and then up at the north bastion we got some small but cute blue and white paintings for 50 dirham each and then another painter up near him i loved his very colourful paintings of women having tea - he wouldnt haggle or budge from his price of 100 dirham each. i eventually got money from the ATM and went back and bought them. All a bit more expensive than my moroccans thought i should have paid when showed them later but no regrets!