The souk of Marrakech is divided into districts - named by the goods on offer - the clothing souk or Souk Smarine is near the entrance to the souks from the main square Djma Elfna and up via Rue Souk Smarine. This southern end of Rue Souk Smarine is flanked by textile shops and souvenir shops with all sorts of attractive to the tourist eye items.
the souks of Marrakech have a reputation for wide variety and high quality of goods - amongst the not so good quality of course! - from fabric to jewellery and slippers and leatherwork . So all sorts can be bought here and the range really is extensive - from silk scarves to cotton pashmina - fabrics and textiles in amazing ranges of choice - interesting tassels and bags - and childrens clothing as well.
From the left side of Rue Souk Smarine are several covered markets - kissarias- which also have textiles and clothing for sale.
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.....
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.
The souks are arranged according to the goods or services on offer and the carpet souk, also known as Criee Berbere, is in the area north of Place Rahba Qedima,which is a small square with apothecaries and carpet stalls, which used to be where the slave auctions were held until the French put a stop to it in 1912.
The main access to the souks is along Rue Souk Smarrine which the southern end of is flanked by textile and souvenir stalls also interspersed with carpet shops.
As with shopping in souks in general in readiness for the high pressure and hustle that tourists can be subjected to its recommended to take a lot of patience with you! and also to have had an introductory visit to a local Ensemble Artisanal which are government run craft shops with fixed prices and good quality goods. Usually more expensive then the prices in the souks, ie the value of the goods that you need to haggle to get the price down to, but they give you an opportunity to get a feel for the market or an idea of qualities and prices to look for.
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.
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!
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!
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).
Situated at the converging point of many trade routes, Marrakech has thrived from its founding as a merchant town. Its souks are thus the largest in Morocco. While the entire Medina is dotted with interesting shops, the main souk area is situated between Djemaa el Fna and Medersa Ben Yousef, right in the heart of the Medina. It is divided into several souks, each with its own name and specialty product, and most of the merchandise is beautiful artisanal products of Morocco. For the first time visitor, the souk can be overwhelming. It is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, some of which are covered, with tiny shops selling clothes, spices, shoes, jewellery, and countless other items. The souk stimulates all the senses by its bright colours, fascinating sights, spicy scents, unusual noises, intriguing people, etc. Tourists are often approached by shopkeepers to entice them into buying, and after several discussions, it could get exhausting, so beware. It is best to allow oneself to get lost in the souk with no time constraints, for every shop will have something fascinating to examine. Making a purchase can be a fun experience as one is expected to barter heavily, often settling the purchase at only a small fraction of the original price. Ask for tea with mint, it could take a while... [take a look at the photos to see some of the colours!]
The Medina is like a step back hundreds of years, to narrow alleys ringing with the sounds of blacksmiths and clucking chickens, with donkey pulled carts and men in Berber cloaks. Compared to the spacious Ville Nouvelle it's claustrophobic and chaotic but teeming with life and a fascinating walk round. When the sun goes down it's plunged into darkness and the alleyways become an impenetrable narrow maze.
You'll get mad ans spend all you money in just a few hours in cheap things. this is a must in town, you just have to loose a couple of hours each day walking on the streets full of people, street vendors, shops, artisnas workshops, etc.
On the picture you have the streets where vendors sell metal objects like lamps.
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.
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!!!
An incredible world is present at Marrakech's medina. You can walk and walk seeing or buying, getting lose ... time after time ... I am very bad at orientation so ... I lose my self one and other time ... and repeat the same streets when I did wanted to find different ones .. but ... after some hours I manage to control everything :))
I find the souk a wonderful place to walk in peace ... I was not disturb by sellers ... only sometimes ... "madam..." with a great smile in their faces ... a world of great colour and magic ...Each part of the medina is dedicated to a kind of commerce. You can find the part of medicines and herbs, a part of metals, one of carpets, of animals, of dry fruits, of laps… Every part has its own name. Some of them are covered and others at squares, some of them are very easy to get to, and others you will have to search for them to get to see them. A magic world made between narrowed little streets full of live and great sellers where you will find also little mosques and public baths.
Marrakesh's souk is a rabbit-warren of narrow streets that spread out from the north side of Jemaa-al-Fnaa Square. Walking into the area, just dive into one of the tiny streets and get yourself lost. You can shop if you want, or just wander around and look. This is not just a place for tourists--although you'll be harangued by shop owners to buy souvenirs, which are everywhere. If you don't want them, just keep walking and look at all the other fascinating stuff crammed into the tiny lanes.
If you look like a tourist (it's hard not to), you'll probably get approached by young men who want to be your "guide" through the souk. Resist. You won't need it. This place isn't that big, and even if you do get turned around, you won't be lost for long. Just ask someone to point you back to Jemaa-al-Fna. It's much more fun to wander around by yourself then to get dragged to shops by guys who are just taking you there to get kickbacks.