Souks of Marrakech
Posted by: Tom ST @ Insight At: 09:49 on 05 Sep 2012
The souks of Marrakech are the largest in Morocco and famed throughout the world as one of the most exotic places in the world to shop. They are also the oldest part of a city that thrived on commerce – and still does. For the first-timer, they can be a bewildering place, so check out our guide on where to go in Marrakech's souks.
Naming of the souks
Historically, all souks were divided and laid out according to separate commodities being made and sold, with the most valuable products (gold, manuscripts) positioned in the centre of the main souk area and lesser goods radiating out from there. Today, little has changed. Each souk is still named after the product being sold and, aside from allowances for modern tastes, the goods are much as they would have been a thousand years ago.
The souks thread north from Jemaa el Fna and continue in a winding labyrinth until they hit the Musée de Marrakech. Open from around 9am to 9pm, the best time to visit is in the cool of morning, or in the evening when the sun seeps through slatted roof shades, illuminating a million golden dust motes.
The main artery of the souks is Souk Semmarine, a broad, covered alley that begins with pottery and pâtisserie and moves into good quality fabric and textiles shops, selling everything from kaftans to pashminas, and huge, expensive, tourist emporiums full of antiques, carpets and jewellery. About halfway along, Souk Semmarine forks. On the right is Spice Square and on the left is Souk el Attarine, bright and gleaming with copper and brass lanterns, mirrors, candlesticks, silver teapots and lamps, as well as spices and perfumes (for which it was traditionally known).
Shoes and clothes
Souk Smata is unmistakably the shoe souk, with brightly-coloured and sequined babouches (Moroccan slippers). Leading off Attarine is Souk el Kebir and Souk Cherratin, the preserve of leatherworkers and the place to go to buy bags, belts, wallets and purses. To the left of Souk el Kebir are the kissarias, covered souks selling clothing and fabrics. There are some great little shops here, too, with chic lanterns, glassware, baskets and antiques. To the right of Kebir is the jewellery souk, Souk des Bijoutiers.
Nowhere is Morocco’s living craftsmanship better illuminated than in the working carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ souks – Souk Chouari and Souk Haddadine, at the northern edge of the souks. These fragrant, noisy alleys are refreshingly untouristy. To the southwest of this main cluster of streets is Souk Sebbaghine or Souk des Teinturiers – the dyers' souk, where rich iridescent skeins of wools and silks coloured with indigo, saffron, mint, poppy and rose blaze against the sky. Music lovers should explore Souk Kimakhine, where traditional Moroccan and Gnaoua instruments are sold.
Tips for haggling
Don’t ask the price of something unless you are willing to buy it. Be prepared to take your time. The general rule of thumb is to offer half of the seller’s first price and go from there. There is never a ‘correct price’ – if you want something and are happy to pay the price, then you have paid the right amount.
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