The souks of Marrakech
Inside the maze of shadowy alleys and passages dotted with pools of sunlight that make up the bazaars of Marrakech in Morocco is a world brimming with multicoloured carpets, silk kaftans, spices, antiques, lanterns, pottery and jewelry. The best way to approach the sensory overload of the souks of Marrakech is to take a breath and dive in
The information in this article is inspired by Insight Guides Pocket Marrakech, your essential guide for visiting Marrakech.
Naming of the souks
Historically, all souks were divided and laid out according to the separate commodities being made and sold. The most valuable products, such as gold and manuscripts, were positioned in the center of the main souk area with less expensive goods radiating out from there.
Today, little has changed. Each souk is still named after the product being sold there, and aside from allowances for modern tastes, the goods on offer are still similar to how they would have been a thousand years ago.
The souks thread north from Jemaa el Fna square 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 the morning, or in the evening when the sunlight seeps through slatted roof shades, illuminating a million golden dust motes.
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Souk at Jemaa el Fan, Marrakech. Photo: Balate Dorin/Shutterstock
The main artery of the souks is Souk Semmarine, a broad, covered alley that begins with pâtisserie and pottery, and moves into high-quality fabric and textiles shops. Traders here sell everything from kaftans to pashminas. There are also huge, expensive, tourist emporiums full of antiques, carpets and jewelry.
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 the spices and perfumes, for which it was traditionally known.
Traditional lamps on sale in a Marrakech souk. Photo: Framed World/Shutterstock
Souk Nejjarine is a renowned woodworking market in the heart of the Medina of Marrakech. Souk is known for its sophisticated woodwork and beautiful crafts made by skilled artisans.
At Souk Nejjarine you can find a variety of goods including fine wooden boxes, furniture, jewellery and traditional Moroccan musical instruments such as the oud and the darbuka. A wide selection of woods can as well be found here, among them cedar, ebony and rosewood.
Traditional moroccan wooden crafts. Photo: Shutterstock
Shoes and clothes
Souk Smata is unmistakably the shoe souk. Here you can browse numerous brightly colored, sequined babouches (Moroccan slippers). Leading off Attarine is Souk el Kebir and Souk Cherratin, the preserve of leatherworkers and the place to go if you want 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 fantastic little shops here, too, offering chic lanterns, glassware, baskets and antiques. To the right of Kebir is the jewelry souk, Souk des Bijoutiers.
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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 unspoiled. To the southwest of this main cluster of streets is Souk Sebbaghine or Souk des Teinturiers – the dyers' souk, where rich iridescent skeins of wool and silk colored with indigo, saffron, mint and poppy blaze against the sky. Music lovers should not miss exploring Souk Kimakhine, where traditional Moroccan and Gnaoua instruments are sold.
Selection of spices at a traditional souk in Marrakech. Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock
Tips for visiting Marrakech souks
Don’t ask the price of something unless you are willing to buy it, and 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 satisfied with the price, then you've paid the right amount.
It doesn't happen often, but beware that some people do get hassled in the souks. You may be approached by stall holders before you have even taken a look at their wares. A friendly smile and a 'no, thank you' is usually enough to ward them off. Watch your purse or valuables while navigating the backstreets of the souks: they can often become crowded and pickpockets are not uncommon.
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Updated 24 February, 2020