I got lost in the souks of Marrakech. Trying to find my way in the huge labyrinth I had to give up and just enjoy the mess.
This ancient North African street market is best explored by just walking around, aimlessly and without any plans, just absorbing the things that happen around you.
In cooperation with: Moroccan National Tourist Office
Getting lost in the souks of Marrakech
This is Marrakech, the thousands of years old trading hub where traders from countries south of Sahara met the Berbers and Arabs from the north. And the place where trading caravans with their camels stayed overnight.
The thousands of years old souks were not built for modern navigation. It’s easy to get lost in thouse, so just go ahead and don’t care. Sooner or later, you will find your way out.
Marrakech, the Trading City of Africa
For thousands of years, Marrakech has been the key trading point in North Africa and that has made the city what it is. Trading was for the Berbers the way to make their living in the desert and it still is a very essential part of life in this North African city.
Tradesman in the souks of Marrakech
The world has changed a lot with years. Tourism to Morocco grows, but the souks of Marrakech still are the same. Nothing has changed, almost.
They still trade the way they did a thousand years ago. They still negotiate every single price in their selling game that has so many unwritten rules. And they still do their shopping in bazaars, in the souks of the Medina of Marrakech. That all happens inside these pink city walls:
Marrakech Medina and City Walls
One of the pink houses in the Medina of Marrakech
All Moroccan towns have a Medina in the center. Medina means the old part of a Moroccan city. All Medinas used to be surrounded by walls and contain souks.
Most cities still have a Medina and a souk, but walls around them don’t always stand out the time.
Marrakech is one of the Moroccan cities that still has its old city wall, 10 m high and almost 20 km long. Some 20 gates let people in and out, some of them massive gateways and others narrow hidden passageways.
So the Marrakech wall is a massive construction that hides inside it the souks and the rest of the old Medina.
Marrakech city wall and a gate
The Medina of Marrakech is a huge area of 150 ha. It’s the place, next to which most of the city’s sights are:
Inside the walls you will find Marrakech central square Jemaa el-Fna and the souks on the north side of it. Nearby are the old Jewish quarter Mellah, the fine palaces of Bahia and El Badi and a number of great pink mosques, the most famous of which is the Koutobia mosque.
For Marrakech sights check out the post The Top Things to Do in Marrakech.
A man in the old town of Marrakech
Marrakech is pink thanks to the building material they take from the surrounding desert. But in the souks you won’t notice the pink, you will only see the collection of items that are on sale.
Moroccan brass lanterns for sale
All kind of stuff is hanging all over, more than you ever imagine can exist in one place. Lanterns, mint tea pots, carpets, Berber gowns, leather slippers, dried fruit, exotic spices, belly dance dresses. So, whatever you need you will find it in the souks, the local market.
The Souks of Marrakech
In the souks of Marrakech
Today, the souks of Marrakech are a world class sight. The labyrinth covers half of the old Medina, almost the whole northern part of it.
So just dive in and start exploring. Don’t be afraid of getting lost. You will find your way out.
Here they are, the Marrakech souks:
The Souks of Marrakech on the Map
Walking map of Marrakech souks
The map shows where in Marrakech the souks are located. I marked a walking route but it doesn’t guide you much. Just walk where you want. This, however, is roughly where I think you should go.
In the labyrinth, use the sun as your compass. After dark, use the stars, just like the Arabs did in the old days. And to make sure you will never get severely lost, download the Marrakech Google map in advance. That lets you locate exactly where you are.
No worries, just walk and see what comes up.
Salesman waiting to start the selling game
Rue Smarine is the main street leading into the souks. It’s the first street you will enter from the main square Jemaa El-Fna.
Hanging products and small shops fill both sides of Rue Smarine. There are many textile shops, but unlike the smaller streets, this main street doesn’t specialize in any specific items. It looks like it’s a general store:
Items for sale in the souks of Marrakech
This first street gives you a good overview of what is on offer in these bazaars – and you will also get a sample of the bazaar’s traffic.
Crossing pedestrians, speeding motor bikes and lazy donkeys. Sellers in traditional robes pushing their over-loaded carriages.
Life in the bazaar: different ways of transport
Then comes a tiny square, a perfect place to step a bit aside and observe, without causing traffic problems.
Life in the bazaar: transporting sales items
Diving into the Labyrinth
From the square, pass the arch to narrower lanes. But first watch out for donkey traffic!
Watch for donkeys!
This is a street with tiny shops selling wash basins, mint tea equipment, honey spoons, leather bags, Morocco souvenirs and metal-framed mirrors. And a lot more.
Articles to decorate your home
As it never rains in Sahara, almost, no roofs are needed in the souks.
But against the hot Sahara sun the alleys need some shade. These green and blue sun shades are my favorite thing in the bazaars. The sun shades make all this mess looks fantastic:
Sun shades covering the narrow alleys of Marrakech
There’s one more solution to give shade, a nice one as well:
One more type of sun shade
So the souk is a shady labyrinth, almost indoors.
Earlier all souks were organized on the basis of the types of items there was on sale, and it still works the same way, mainly. That makes it more orqanized and it’s a lot easier to find the right things.
We will now look at different types of souks.
Souk des Ferronniers
Ironworkers’ souk, Marrakech
Souk des Ferronniers is at the far end of the labyrinth. It’s where ironworkers create lanterns, iron furniture, keys and things like that. A very noisy place where you will feel the smell of iron work being done.
Moroccan iron men are real professionals. This is what kind of things they create out of hot metal:
Produced by the craftsmen of the souks
Then, behind the noisy, dirty iron section I found the wool souk I had been looking for. I had seen it in photos and know it was somewhere.
It began with some colored wool in distance, and then, soon, there we were!
Hanging wool in the souks of Marrakech
Souk des Teinturiers
Dyers’ Souk, Marrakech, Morocco
Even when I’m not really for knitting or handicraft, this my favorite souk.
The Dyers’ Souk has recently dyed wool hanging across the alleys. The wool is still wet and drops a bit.
It strongly looks like the favorite colors in Morocco are red and yellow:
Yarn hanging across the alley
Wool looks so postcard-perfect in the sun. This is the kind of wool Moroccan carpets are made of, the carpets some of which I will show you soon.
I had to stay a long while in this specific souk, staring at the strong colors they use in the handicraft, hearing dyers work in the corridors.
Colors for dying and yarns dyed in different colors
And what about the carpets then? They exist in the next souk in order.
Souk des Tapis
Here they are, Moroccan carpets shining in strong Saharan colors:
The end product waiting to be bought
Souk des Tapis is the carpet sellers’ souk. Carpets need a lot more room than anything else in the bazaar, that’s why the shops are bigger here than elsewhere.
Moroccan carpets from different villages have each their own look. Made by different tribes that all have their own patterns.
Whatever the village all carpets look beautiful. I’d just love to start bargaining and see where I will end, but where could I put all the carpets? My house is already full of them, Moroccan carpets from earlier trips.
Maybe I should buy leather items instead?
Lanterns made of leather
As the name says, Leather Souk is where they sell leather bags and other items made of skin. Belts, purses, even leather lanterns. As Morocco is a leather country, the selection is amazing:
Items in the leather souk of Marrakech
And then Moroccan slippers. Shops in the leather souk and everywhere else sell this kind of slippers. They are babouches, typical Moroccan footwear with a pointy toe.
They make them out of soft skin and in all sizes and colors. Babouches must be so good on cold Moroccan stone floors, but buying them home to my family members is a hard thing to do, I don’t know their foot sizes.
Babouches, Moroccan slippers
In the Souks of Marrakech: Moroccan Spices
Moroccan spices for sale
And last but not least: the spices. If you ever travel to Morocco, don’t forget the spices. Turmeric, chili, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, saffron, coriander… And all the fantastic herbs they make use of here, beginning from mint.
Spices are sold everywhere and as the locals use them a lot when they cook, they sell them from this kind of big sacs only.
The taste of Moroccan food comes from the many spices. But that will be another story.
Goodbye for this time! Now you have been wandering through the souks of Marrakech.
Moroccan herbs and spices in the souks of Marrakech
My trip to Morocco was made possible by Moroccan National Tourist Office, in whose press trip I participated. All opinions expressed in this blog post, however, are my own.