In Store: Rugs, spices, love potions & hand crafts.
Bartering: On your life, expect many cups of mint tea and several hours to score a top bargain or make a swap.
Best Buy: The softest leather in the world.
Where It’s At
Just off Marrakech’s central square – Djemaa el-Fna – lies some of the most enticing souks in Morocco. A souk can mean either a single market stall or, as in this case, a whole bustling labyrinth of stalls selling everything from rugs and spices to leather goods and love potions.
What’s In Store
The souks are divided into different areas for different products; ‘El-Kebir Souk’ for leather goods,‘Qassabine souk’ for wickerwork, dried fruit and spices, but it is pointless trying to remember names and routes as there are no signs or names and the stalls are crowded together. Rest assured you will not have to wait long before someone offers their services as a guide, and ‘luckily for you’, his uncle will probably own the best rug/leather/spices shop in Marrakech.
One of the best things about the souks is that you can often see the handicrafts being made as the craftsmen sit out on their stalls as they work, whispering ‘come in, have a look’ as you pass. Of the many handicrafts of Morocco, leatherwork (maronquinerie) – said to be the softest in the world – is the most widely produced, and has been a highly prized item since the 16th century.Rugs are also eschewed in history, originating in the 14th century from a knotting technique bought in by the Persians. If you’re after something to wear, traditional clothes for sale in the Smarine Souk includes caftans, a long loose fitting dress for women, and the djellaba equivalent for men. The djellaba is similar to the caftan but usually with a hood and both are available in a variety of designs and fabrics.
Visiting the Bazaar
If you decide to buy, the name of the game is to haggle. As a rule of thumb, offer about a third of the original price presented to you. You may as well make yourself comfortable as negotiations can take hours and be prepared to drink numerous cups of sweet mint tea in the process. It may also be possible to swap things, if you have designers T-shirts or trainers for example that you are prepared to give up.
The most interesting time to visit the souks is in the early hours of 5 – 8am, or late afternoon around 4-5pm when local traders can be seen bargaining for goods. Most stalls are closed in the evenings, although a few stay open till 7 or 8pm. It’s also worth noting that some souks are closed on Fridays, the holy day.
El Edrissi Epices
10 Souk Bradia Sabaghine
This is the place for all your Moroccan spices and herbal remedies. Enough English is spoken to explain the function of the contents of the myriad of jars that line the store.
30, Souk Smata
Tel: 00 212 44 44 04 46
This stall has more Moroccan slippers than you can shake a stick at. If you can’t find the ones you want here, they probably doesn’t exist.
Al Badii Gallery
54 Boulevard Moulay Rachid, Gueliz
40 000 Marrakech
Tel: 00 212 44 43 16 93
Fax: 00 212 44 43 16 79
The wonderful Mohamed Bouskri will take you on an enthusiastic tour of this amazing antique shop. He is incredibly knowledgeable about Berber history and symbolism, making for an utterly fascinating experience. A real authority in his field, the gallery is well worth a visit.
Ministero del Gusto
11 Derb El Maroufi Ksour
Tel: 00 212 70 408 032
The Ministero is a treasure trove of Moroccan art and very well known in Marrakech. An example of more unusual stock includes the pop art paintings of the artist and fashion designer Hassan Hajjaj.
By Debbie Fabb