The souks in the Medina are a warren of alleyways which branch out in all directions.However,you are never very far from the centre of the Medina,so if you get lost ask a shopkeeper who will point you in the right direction.
The souks are a riot of colour with a great atmosphere,selling brass lanterns,leather slippers,carpets,handbags,jewellery and pottery.I even found a genuine Moroccan car registration number plate which i collect on my travels.Don't forget to barter with these guys,as they start off at a stupid price.You can get the price down considerably providing you are persistent.
Most people think of Marrakech as a shoppers delight. I don't. I had saved all my money to buy my gifts here at the markets or Souks and was a bit dissapointed. It's actually better to shop at Essaouria on the coast if you can plan a day trip out there.
Yes, I bartered and thought I got some good deals...but on doing the exchange maths when I got back to our Riad, I realised that I could have got a better deal at home. So my tip to you is to look but pass with a firm No and a smile to go with it. ....and definately do not let some woman with a hundred bangles follow you all the way down the Souk only to buy something just to get her to leave! haha.
The last pic is of the nice fella that sold us a mint tea set. Fouad, one of the staff of our Riad took us to some best stalls in the Souk (his friends ;o) and hubby bought a nice mint tea set off this guy. It's lovely and we bartered hard but I still think the guy did really well from us :o)
Anyway, all was not lost..... I did happen to find a nice stall that sold lovely brass bangles and neck chokers as pictured below and we went back a couple of times to buy more.
I love souks as i find them so photogenic - the people and the variety and diversity and shapes and colours and designs of goods that are usually there and the vibrance of the atmsosphere. So ive been to quite a few around Morocco including those in combination with festivals - on my own but mostly with my moroccan connections - and shopped for orders from my UK moroccan friends eg babouches particularly of the type made in Tetouan.
And then also theres the souks in Tunisia that ive been to too - such as also the excellent Tunis souks! where i did buy some excellent babouches!
Not that it makes it fool proof or even easy! but it does make it a lot easier to have seen the ways of checking and comparing for quality and haggling for prices. Going to the artisanal ensembles helps too in seeing how low the set prices can be and therefore how low you should go in the souks - or in some cases how much cheaper we can get things haggling in the souks.
As for the souks of Marrakech its been said that they are renowned for their variety and high quality and that the craft of leatherworking is even said to have originated here and the craftsmen of Marrakech regarded as master-leatherworkers.
The souks are arranged and known by the type of goods on offer ie Souk Smata for its slippers and belts!but you will also find that as babouches are generally such saleable attractive items for tourists you will find them prominently placed in shops soon after entering the souk and also in the covered markets (kissarias).
Generally aim for babouches that you particularly like of course - and as for price if they ask for 200 dhm or more they are probably worth around 80 dirham - yes even for good leather - or even 60! and if going for nice leather ones check that the leathers soft and nice quality and dont smell!
Leather pouffes are also a favourite and good value - if you haggle well - a standard design should be about 120-150 dirham for medium sized pouffe - the ones that look fabulous and are all one colour of beautifuly soft leather or with lots of colour and work on them can be up to 350 dirham with good haggling - check the smell though - have a good whiff for that nice smell of leather - if its got a pong it probably wont get any better but rather worse and sorry but...stink your house out!....especiallly leather lamps, use something like a fire lighter if you have or ask for some matches to test to apply some heat to the leather and see what aroma is achieved...if its not good quality leather it will release an aroma you dont like.....
The souks in Marrakech are amazing. Cars, motorbikes, handcarts and even donkeys wander up and down the narrow dimly lit alleys.
The sights and smells overwhelm you.
It is hard to look in the shops as any time you show any interest in anything they bombard you with information on the product and all the other products they sell.
We did find a lovely little cafe in the middle of the souk where we could sit and have a drink whilst taking in the atmosphere.
North of the Djamaa el Fna lie the souks, a rabbit warren of lanes, many of them shaded with a lattice of wooden staves. They are both tourist attraction and local shopping centre, and the further you go from the square, diving into their depths, the more of the latter you will experience. We explored a small area on the western fringes on our first day but after that were limited to the lanes leading off the square because of my injury. These are said to be the least good, both in terms of character and the quality of the goods on sale, but we were happy with our limited explorations, and with the couple of items we bought here. I particularly love my bright pink shoulder bag :-)
Traditionally each area specialised in a certain craft – dying in one part, leather in another and pottery in a third. Although these distinctions have become muddled with time there is still a distinct dyers’ souk (which sadly we didn’t get to) and even elsewhere you will suddenly realise that every other shop in this row sells almost the same things. Even if you don’t want to buy anything at all you can spend many happy hours here, soaking up the atmosphere, looking at the colourful displays and taking photos.
And if you do want to shop, remember that haggling is as much a game as it is a transaction. Don’t take it too seriously, but do stick to what you feel is a reasonable price and don’t be lured into paying more than you think an item is worth. The usual advice is to start with an offer of about a third of that being asked and aim to finish at about the mid-way point.
At the southern end of the Souk, is this carpet Souk, which leads into Place Rahba Quedima, the apothecary square.
The carpet souk is instantly recognisable, by the many colourful carpets hanging from the walls of the buildings.
This area was originally the Slave market, until 1912, when the French banned this practice.
If you are intent on buying a carpet, you will need to have your haggling skills well honed, and know a bit about carpet making. (Materials used, dyes, knots, prices etc)
If you intend to buy a carpet or rug, do your homework first. The Ensemble Artisanale near the Koutoubia mosque is a place to visit to find the fixed prices for carpets- or ask at your hotel reception for local advise
Most tour guides/ touts will at some point try to guide you into a carpet shop, there are many of these establishments in the souk and in Gueliz.
Some can be quite entertaining, but don't make any offers if You're not serious about buying. Just sit it through and enjoy learning about the different styles of carpets etc.
Even If You're offered a mint tea and a friendly chat, make it politely clear that You're not wanting to buy.
You might be tempted with offers to pay in installments, deposit only, 'easy to carry/post home for you' etc etc.
Again, only buy if you really want to!!!
This square, in the centre of the souks, is surrounded by small berber pharmacies/ apothecaries, and carpet stalls.
Whilst in the centre, local women sell herbal remedies, raffia hats and bags, amongst cheap plastic trinkets etc.
It's quite a lively place, with plenty of local colour.
For the squeamish/animal lovers, please be aware that some of the stalls will have animals or animal parts on display (live iguanas or tiny terrapins- animal pelts, reptile skins, feathers etc) which are used in their potions and medicines etc!
Some would recommend a guide for your 1st visit into the souks- personally I didn't bother, I prefer to just wander . However, if you're short of time, or looking to buy something special it might be an advantage.
( I did hire a guide later for half a day, to visit some sights, and we did venture into the Souks).
Souks amazingly do have a pattern to them!
Traditionally, the Mosque was at the centre of the souk. Nearby, stalls were set up to sell candles and incense etc to the worshippers.
Booksellers and scribes then set up their businesses, again having strong connections with the mosque.
Next, craftsmen producing leather goods, such as bags, and slippers established their pitches, initially to sell goods that were essential to the citizens, later expanding into fashion goods, and now with the tourist trade keeping the tradition alive.
Drapers and tailors provided the next 'layer' of tradespeople, as textiles such as cotton and silks, were sold or made into clothing. You can still find tailors in this souk, along with clothing of various designs and quality.
Those trading in precious stones, metals, textiles and furs etc found themselves in a 'safe building' which could be secured. - a quissaria- (covered market).
On the edge of the souk, traders rather than craftsmen were situated- these sold everyday items to the locals.
Visiting tradesmen and travellers, arriving at the city by horse or camel, may require the services of a blacksmith, later they were joined by ironmongers, mechanics etc as motorised transport arrived.
Banished beyond the city walls were the smelly trades!! - the tanners (the solutions used in the tanning process) and the potters (smoke from the kilns)
This pattern remains much the same today, in the souks of Morocco.
Despite all the craftsmen here it would still be highly suspected that a lot of stuff comes over from China - its great walking around especially the metal souks where you do see the men still busy using their skills and making and creating such a wide range of items.
Including keys and castanets - metal lamps and so on. But much of it goes on behind the scenes in very hot and chemical stifling environments - this was particularly pointed out to me in Fez where women endured working all day to put the finish on the metal lamps there. Gruelling work with very low pay.
The souks are the showcase of all that the best of Moroccan artisan tradition can offer. More than 10 000 craftsmen, grouped into 40 guilds work on handicrafts of all kinds. Each guild has its own market "souk".
Though the Souk in Fes is even more interesting in my opinion, the Marrakech Souk - north and east of square Djemaa al Fnaa - is still fascinating. Each small Souk has all shops that offer a certain product like metal works, spices, clothing, carpets etc. The most interesting part to me was the dyer`s souk with lines of colourful wool hanging for the drying. A guide for the first visit would be helpful, as he distracts would-be-guides to offer you their services and helps you to navigate in this maze of small alleys.
Thanks so much. I always tell my clients to take organized tours for that very reason. But, I was wanting to be a little more adventurous!!!! Doesn't look like I should risk it! Thanks for your advise.
The souks of Marrakech (like Jemaa el-Fna) are famous and work like a magnet for tourists. And to be honest we also enjoyed strolling around through the maze of all these alleys and squares: watching people, seeing the colours, smelling the scents, having a Moroccan coffee, looking to the craftsmen in their small workshops, bargaining with shopkeepers and always paying too much.
The main alleys do have iron trellis, protecting people and goods for sunshine (and in summer heath). If you are on the right moment sun rays can give an extra dimension to the souks.
Souk Smarine is the ‘main road’ of the Marrakech souks and in my opinion one big tourist trap with mostly more or less normal gift shops selling touristy souvenirs and other knickknacks (the same stuff you can buy everywhere in Marrakech). It’s hardly impossible to take a look or to browse by your own without a pushy shopkeeper offering ‘special deals’.
The further away (or in smaller side alleys to sometimes covered markets) the more authentic the souks are. Especially in the most northern parts (west of the Koubba Ba’Aydin) we saw a lot of local craftsmen working in their tiny workshops.
The ‘Olive Souk’ was also very authentic, with locals buying olives at one of the stalls; this souk is situated ‘outside’ the maze of alleys - between the northern part of Jemaa el-Fna and the entrance to Souk Smarine.
Our favourite spot was Rahba Kedima or Old Square; famous for the apothecary stalls with their herbs and cosmetics. In the middle of the square, protected by parasols against the sun, women were trying to sell skullcaps (bright coloured knitted caps), but we never saw them really selling one, while we had our coffee and lunch on the terrace of Café des Épices, a perfect place for watching daily ‘souk life’ (there is a small sign in Souk Smarine).
Visit the souks around Djema el Fnaa... the farther you go from the square, the more interesting the souks become - because they are selling fewer tourist junk. I am normally more fascinating with souks seeling food or spices, though this time we did not buy much... we were looking for saffron, but the quality wasn't that good, really.
Still, it's always a delight to stroll about and see what it is being sold - smell the perfumes and admire the colours. The covered souk, thogh very touristy, is also an ice place to walk about and people watch... on our first day we spotted a very well-known Italian magistrate.
Finding the sunshine a little too much - take a stroll into the souqs of Marrakech. The alleyways are sufficiently narrow to offer shade from the heat of the Moroccan sunshine!
You will find almost anything your heart desires for sale - shoes, jewellery, clothes, spices, olives, traditional crafts, etc. Pay how much or how little you want - everything comes in low to high quality and you pay accordingly (or dependent on how much the vendor can stretch your wallet)!!
Be warned - prices can fluctuate and its easy to get yourself a bargain if you're prepared to put in a little effort. I was looking for a keyring and saw a stall with a large selection but none that I particularly liked. The stall owner went off to a friend and brought a few more - one of which I liked; he asked 60Dhs, a lot more than I wanted to pay, but then reduced to 55 and 50Dhs. I refused politely and walked away - to which he shouted 5DHs!!! I didn't return but couldn't believe how much he would go down to from 60DHs!