October 4, 2016

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco


Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

Within Marrakesch, there is an old city (medina) and a new city (guéliz). While the new city area emits the buzz of modern life, as soon as you pass through the gates of the ramparts aroudn the old city, you are transported into another world. Within the walls of the medina, the old life meets new and echoes of the traditions of this vibrant red city are apparent around every corner.

The medina is where you will find the beautiful iconic wandering alleyways full of colorful shops - the souks. As you meander through the narrow alleys, you'll get a glimpse of the real magic of Morocco. The flashes of brightly colored flowing scarves, the pungent scents of spices and slow cooked tagines, the yell of the hawkers to try to pull you in, and the ting of the hammers hitting metal as you watch the craftsman carefully create works of functional art...it fills you with the realization that you are in a unique and special place.

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

Navigating the labyrinth

Wandering the souks can be a bit overwhelming. The alleys wind through the old city and connect in seemingly random patterns, so it's easy to get lost, but getting lost is probably the best way to experience it all. If you're worried about getting lost or short on time, GPS or a hired guide is your best bet. The souks start at famous Jemaa el Fna Square and create a labyrinth of vibrant scents, colors, and sounds all the way to the Musee de Marrakech. Each section of souks was historically laid out and divided by the goods being sold there and not much has changed in thousands of years. The deeper you get, the more apparent these sections are - craftsmen working with the mediums in the metal, leather, or pottery areas; fresh produce vendors line courtyards; shoemakers hawk beautiful slippers.

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

Make the Deal

The shops that are closest to the square are generally the most tourist focused, so these shops will probably have the highest prices. Best bet for a deal is to get a bit deeper into the maze.

Don't be afraid to haggle. In the souks of Marrakech more than most any other place I've visited, the sellers are aggressive and they are prepared to deal and haggle. It's very much accepted here. General advice is to ask for a price, offer half of what is given, and go from there. Don't be afraid to walk if you don't get a reasonable price - 9 times out of 10 the seller will flag you down and take your offer.

When you see a fixed price that looks too good, know that it is probably is. It is a tactic to get you talking and bring you in, so be prepared. A scarf hanging with a 10 dirham ($1 USD) sign might be the most boring scarf they have and the seller will certainly try to sell you on a more expensive scarf once he knows you're interested and he may not even seem willing to sell you the cheaper item at all with his sales tactics, but hold your ground. It's ok to haggle or to keep walking.

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

Stay Safe

Dress comfortably, but respectfully. The souks can get very hot in the summer, so bring water. Keep an eye on your valuables because with all the chaos going on in the market, it makes to distracted easy pickings for thieves. Be sure to be aware of your surroundings and stay to the sides and motorcycles and horse drawn carriages also zip up and down these alleys. Be courteous and know that some folks are not keen on having photos taken, so be aware when you are trying to snap your shots.

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

What to buy

The options are seemingly endless in the souks. Morocco is known for fine leatherwork (thanks to the tanneries in nearby Fez), so it's a great place to pick up a new bag, an ottoman, or pair of shoes. Tea sets, colorful bowls, tagines, and shops full of spices are wonderful for stocking the kitchen. Lanterns and rugs are beautiful here, but both can be tricky to get home.

It's important to note that not all items in the souks are going to turn out to be the beautiful one of a kind items they might seemed to be. Tourism is big business in Marrakech and there are lots mass produced items made to look authentic being sold by many different sellers. That's perfectly ok and those items can make great souvenirs, but just be clear about that so you're paying an appropriate price. The handmade one of a kind gems are there, but they require a bit more of a premium for the craftsmanship.

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

Don't skip the food vendors. The souks are home to one of my favorite Moroccan dishes - lamb tangia. The taingia is similar to a tagine. The lamb chunks are placed in a clay urn (called a taingia) with onions and a mix of moroccan spices. They are then covered with parchment and placed in the hot coals to cook for a full day. The result is the most amazing tender meat I've ever eaten. You can spot places selling this dish by looking for the urns.

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a StampExploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

Exploring the Souks of Marrakech // Morocco // A Suitcase & a Stamp

2 comments:

  1. Wow - I want EVERYTHING! Those lanterns are particularly spectacular! These are great tips too - Thank you!

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  2. This sounds a lot like some of the markets I visited in Shanghai. I loved the vibe, and was born to "negotiate." You are so right - do not be afraid to walk away. I found that learning a bit of the local language/dialect dramatically improved the prices I was quoted, too!

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