Secrets of The Souks: Shopping in Marrakech

SHOPPING IN MARRAKECH

SECRETS OF THE SOUKS: DON’T LEAVE MARRAKECH WITHOUT THESE SOUVENIRS 

Marrakech is a paradise for the shopping addict and there’s no better place to buy yourself an excess baggage fee than in the city’s exotic and world-renowned souks. The heartbeat of this vibrant moroccan metropolis and the biggest market in all of Morocco, the souks are a labyrinth of narrow, dimly lit alleyways crammed with stalls and craftsmen selling their centuries-old skills. An assault to the senses that twists and turns north of Jemaa el-Fna in the Medina, there’s the whiff of lemons, mint and olives, the flavor of nuts, figs and apricots and the dazzling eye-catching colours of stunning hand-made crafts. Sheltered by latticed palm fronds, you’ll see leather bags, silver, jewellery, carpets, kaftans, rugs, lanterns, slippers, spices and other stunning crafts covering, quite literally, every inch of these busy bazaars. The effect is rather like strolling through a puzzling and blissfully cluttered, real-life Aladdin cave and it’s an experience that no visitor to Marrakech should miss.

A puzzling & blissfully cluttered, real-life Aladdin’s cave…

Part history lesson, part endurance test, a shopping expedition through the tight knot of passageways that fill much of the northern half of the Medina is the ultimate navigational challenge but it’s well worth the effort. This Moroccan metropolis is a vibrant city packed to the rafters with shopping opportunities but for the best souvenir shopping in Marrakech, it’s the souks you should be seeking out. Historically, the souks were laid out according to what they made and sold, and little has changed in a staggering thousand-odd years. Different areas specialise in different specific wares. The most valuable goods are situated in the middle of the main souk area and the cheaper goods spread out from there; Make sure you wander the Babouche (slipper) Souk, the Dyers’ Souk with its riot of colours, the Ironworkers’ Souk and the Carpet Souk if you can’t find time to wander aimlessly (AKA get hopelessly lost) through all of them. This guide to the secrets of the souks has the ultimate list of spectacular moroccan souvenirs you won’t want to leave behind if you’ve got any space for a bargain or two in your baggage!

RUGS & CARPETS

The most prized purchase for many visitors to Morocco? A rug, and for good reason! Moroccan rugs are beautiful and there are dozens of options and price ranges available. The brown-and-white, diamond-pattern Moroccan beni ouarain may be the the most popular, but flat-weave rugs in all patterns, shapes, and sizes— antique and brand new—are easily found all over the medinas of this country, especially those of Marrakech. In traditional Berber weaves, lozenge patterns play a big role in the Zemmour tribal designs, while the rugs of the Atlas Mountain tribes tend to have more zig-zag and larger-format patterns.

They were once woven traditionally from camel hair and wool, but now cotton and even synthetics have found their way in. It’s always good to make a recon trip first, then go back a second time to actually buy. And yes, you should barter. Even the most expensive rug bought in Marrakech will be far less costly than if it were purchased elsewhere. Practice your bargaining skills before you buy one though, you’ll need them! Take your time choosing, don’t show too much interest, bargain hard and be willing to walk away if the price isn’t right. You also should remain realistic as many rugs can take several weeks to make.

BABOUCHES

Marrakech is the capital of Morocco’s leather-working industry and the most common exponent of the craft is the babouche. These perky slippers are available all over the souks and at 100-150 dirhams a pair, you can afford to buy several from the wide selection of styles on show in the souks: from the classic pointy toe in canary yellow to feminine styles adorned with tassels, sequins and etching work.

ARGAN OIL

It goes without saying that if you’re interested in buying argan oil, or Moroccan oil as you probably call it where you’re from, Marrakech is the place to do it. Harvesting and cultivating argan oil is an age-old tradition across Morocco, so you’re getting the very best there is when you purchase it from round these parts. AMIGHA, the Moroccan Association of Geographical Indication of Argan Oil, makes sure of it. Grown in the southern regions of the country, argan oil is extracted from roasted seeds. True argan is thick, a golden yellow colour and smells very nutty but there are two types on the shelves in the souks: cosmetic and culinary. You’ll want to specify which you’re after. Great for healing and glossing up your locks, it’s also good for cooking and since it’s full of vitamin E and linoleic acid, it is also claimed to have disinfectant, sun-protective and anti-inflammatory properties.

LANTERNS

Cut in patterns that cast dazzling little light shows across tadelakt (plaster)-coated walls, those hanging pendants, table lanterns and floor lamps you admire at every riad and hotel across Morocco — well you can bring them home, too. The souks abound with craftspeople and glass workers who fashion them from single sheets of oxidized iron, brass, or chrome. Other styles are sectioned pendant lights, fit with panes of richly colored glass and strung on long chains.

JEWELLERY

For tribal chic you can’t go past Moroccan jewellery and Marrakesh is a virtual treasure trove of jewels.  Strands of beads can be found everywhere in the souk, along with baskets of old coin charms and amulets.  Also lining the souks are jewellery stores—the better ones showcase necklaces, bracelets and headpieces carefully pinned to the wall in glass cases.  While most is of the new-ish genre, you can often find assemblage pieces made from old Berber components. Invest in silver pieces, as silver is believed to have protective powers and to ward off the evil eye – (perhaps the most gorgeous life insurance policy of all time.)

SPICES

The spice souk’s square is a sight in itself, with spices heaped into astonishing large cones making for a colourful display like no other. Here you can buy a wide variety of spices at affordable prices.

FASHION

Marrakech has inspired countless foreign couturiers, from Yves Saint-Laurent to Tom Ford but the city certainly has a fashion of its own. From fanciful dresses to basic djallabas, leather bags to bold accessories, Moroccan fashion is bright, bold, distinguishable and often still largely handmade.

EMBROIDERED LINEN

The general rule is cotton thread for bed and table linens; silk thread for djellabas, tunics, and kaftans. The former tend to be simple, geometric designs—cross-hatches, parallel lines—edging high-quality cotton and 100 percent linen tablecloths, napkins, and bed sheets. The latter are dense, textural borders, in black (the most traditional) and deliciously rich dyes. Wait till you see them in person…

Moroccan Leather Pouffes in every colour you can imagine…

Stunning handmade Moroccan baskets

Handmade metalwork is also available in the souks

Have I left your favourite Moroccan souvenir off my Marrakech shopping list? Let me know in the comments below… Get more info on travelling to Morocco and the Highlights of Marrakech on Back to Buckley so you’ll be ready to hit the ground running next time you visit.

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