See what a guest blogger from our riad has to say about visiting the souks in Marrakech.
Souks are probably one of Morocco’s best-known attractions. These markets can be found in most cities and towns selling everything from pottery, fabrics and furniture to slippers and musical instruments.
Most travellers pass through Marrakech during their time in the country and here you can find some of the biggest and best souks. While many Moroccan cities and towns have souks, none are quite like those in Marrakech.
The Souks – these are the largest in North Africa and is the trading centre of the city – the reason that, many hundreds of years ago, people would walk through the desert with their goods-ladened camels. Marrakech’s central location led to it being chosen as the Almoravid capital. After fortifying the city with high walls and strong doorways in massive gates, the city became a major centre of trade.
Located along the Sahara trading route, convoys passed through en route to and from the Saharan regions. As popularity grew, traders began coming to Marrakech from diverse parts of the country, eager to buy and sell diverse items.
There were smaller daily markets throughout the medina for residents, with larger weekly and monthly souks set up strategically throughout the areas. Those days may be behind us but the carts and motorbikes forcing their way through the bustle are probably even more hazardous!
The souks are great for wandering about in – you will get lost, but that’s all part of the fun & you will eventually make your way back out again. Yes, a lot of what is on display has been imported, however in tiny back alleys you will still see men hard at work cutting out slippers, turning wood, and creating many beautiful desirable objects. Bartering is a must and your riad will give you advice on what the going rate is for most items. A great stop off in the souks is the Café des Epices in the Spice Market Square. A seat outside or on the terrace is a great way to stop and watch the world go by with a nois-nois (half black, half white coffee). Marrakech’s souks, as with the medina in general, have narrow alleyways that are like a maze. It is easy to become disorientated and the streets and stalls can quickly start to look the same.
Make sure that you have a map and the address and phone number of your accommodation of you truly can’t make your own way back.
Remember that the medina is surrounded by a wall; by walking straight in any direction you should eventually come to the outer wall. Then, you can simply jump in a taxi or walk around the edges to find where you want to be.
Look for landmarks to help you get your bearing; many people use the towering minaret of Koutoubia Mosque to assist.
Try to avoid asking random people for directions, as they may offer to take you and then demand a fee.
Instead, ask shopkeepers (who cannot readily leave their stalls), police officers, or families with children.
The souks can be a bit overwhelming at first, with the myriad sights, sounds, and smells, not to mention the crowds of people and the donkeys that trot through the narrow alleys.
If time is limited or you aren’t so confident at exploring the souks on your own, hiring a local guide can be the perfect way to enjoy the souks and discover things that you may have missed on your own.
Through the medina, there are technically different souks (markets) but, without a map, they all seem to blend into one at times. Within the souks themselves, there are clear delineations, though.
Souk Semmarine is the main focal point of the souks and the one that most tourists frequent. It is basically a long street covered by an iron trellis that turns into two other souks—Souk Nejjarine and Souk El-Kebir. Virtually all the smaller individual souks run off of this main artery formed by these three souks
From the silk-spinners to the spice sellers; from the carpets to the crystals; from drying dyes to the men melting metals. Each little street has its own identity and its own unique selling point.
And, with almost three thousand stalls in the souks of Marrakech, the only things that can compete with the sight of it all are the smells and the sounds. Whether it’s the owners shouting at you, or the recently tanned leather, or the piles of spices.
It’s an assault on all your senses but one that immediately transports you into this unique world that seems to have no borders. You very quickly forget how you came in and it can take a long time to find your way out.
While you can buy almost anything you could possibly imagine in the large and diverse souks of Marrakech, there are some items that are especially prevalent or that make excellent souvenirs and gifts.
Cashmere scarves are versatile and add a little pizazz to any outfit. They are also great for covering up in the sunshine and covering your hair in conservative areas. Regular day-to-day clothing, woollen hats, Fez hats, and other clothing and accessories are sold throughout the narrow lanes.
The souks of Marrakech are a must-see for any visitor to the city. With so much to see and do, it can be difficult to know where to start. Our guide will help you navigate your way through the maze of alleyways and stalls, and we invite you to come and stay with us at Riad Linda so that you can enjoy the best of the souks right on our doorstep. We look forward to welcoming you soon!