A seemingly never-ending maze of covered or open streets lined with shops and workshops, the souks of Marrakech are a captivating encapsulation of the city’s medieval days. The souks in Marrakech are among the best in the world and a trip to the souks is a must-do as it is part history lesson, part self-restraint test – to see how long you can keep your wallet in your pocket. Shopping aside, an expedition among the artisans and traders is an experience not to be missed. Here is our comprehensive guide to the Marrakech souks to help make your visit to the souks more of a pleasure than an endurance test.
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A Short Introduction to the Souks of Marrakech
The Arabic word “souk” refers to an indoor or outdoor marketplace in northern Africa or the Middle East where commodities and services are exchanged or sold.
Ever since the founding of Marrakech by the Almoravid dynasty in 1070, the city became a major center of trade. It became an important stop along the Trans-Saharan trading route and commodities like gold, ivory, leather, metalwork, and ceramics passed through en route to and from the Saharan regions.
This led to the growth of Jemaa el Fna as the city’s initial souk and large open-air market where itinerant merchants would stop and display their goods for sale.
As the population of Marrakech grew, further souks developed in a linear pattern along the narrow streets of the medina. These souks soon turned into covered walkways and became places for locals not only to shop but also a regular meeting point for gossip and chitchat.
Even today, trade continues to be the Marrakech’s mainstay and the souks are a beehive of economic and social activity. The souks are arranged according to the type of goods that they offer, and the location of each souk reflects a hierarchy dictated by the value placed on the assorted products on offer in each of them.
The most valuable goods were positioned in the center with the less expensive products radiating out from there. Many of the souks take their name from the products sold there or the day of the week that they typically occurred in the past.
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Different Souks in Marrakech
The vibrant souks of Marrakech sell everything from textiles and ceramics to jewelry and spices. The following is a general description of each souk, though nowadays the borders between the souks have become a bit blurred.
1. Souk Ableuh
Souk Ableuh small, atmospheric souk is the first you’ll encounter if coming from Jemaa el Fna. You’ll pass a row of stalls that specialize in selling lemons, chilis, pickles, and most prominently mounds of delectable green, red, and black olives.
2. Souk Semmarine
Souk Semmarine is the main focal point of the souks and the one that most tourists frequent. It is basically a long street covered by an iron trellis that turns into two other souks—Souk Nejjarine and Souk El-Kebir. Virtually all the smaller individual souks run off of this main artery formed by these three souks.
As you enter, you’ll find pastry sellers and a slew of colorful pottery and ceramics. Once you move further inside, there’s a miscellany of high-quality textiles, expensive antique furniture, jewelry, and souvenirs. Busy and crowded, Souk Semmarine is where you’ll encounter the most tourists.
3. Souk Smata
Souk Smata is one of my favorite souks and virtually every shop and stall has row upon row of nothing but colored pointy-toed Moroccan slippers (known as babouches and belghas) made from the finest calf- and goatskin.
They come in every color imaginable with some being while others are beautifully decorated with intricate embroidery and sequins. Some slippers are meant to be worn indoors, while the ones with strong soles for outdoor wear.
4. Rahba Kedima
Rahba Kedima is a small square that is home to stalls selling Berber hats (straw in summer and colorful rough woolen caps in winter) and woven baskets.
The most interesting aspect of Rahba Kedima is the apothecary stalls (sometimes called Berber chemists) around the southwest entrance to the square.
Like a bazaar straight out of the Harry Potter universe, you can get aphrodisiac roots and tablets, cochineal, dried petals, sun-bleached driftwood, dried lizards, scorpions, alligator and iguana skins, leeches, fragments of beaks, talons, and other substances and objects for use in black magic. Now that is truly bizarre!
5. Souk Kchacha
Souk Kchacha is where you can buy all types of delicious dried fruit and nuts including almonds, apricots, cashews, dates, figs, olives, and walnuts.
6. Souk Larzal
This small souk is an early-morning wool market and afternoon secondhand-clothing bazaar.
7. Souk Btana
Known as the skinner’s souk, the aromatic Souk Btana is where the stalls are piled high with leather hides ready to be turned into all those purses and belts you see dangling throughout the souks.
The skins are of goat, cow, sheep, and camel. During morning hours, you can often see freshly dyed leather hides left out to dry in the sun.
8. Souk Cherratin
Souk Cherratin is the primary reserve of leather workers, cobblers, and their goods. It is full of little shops overflowing with leather bags, belts, coats, purses, wallets, and boots.
The Kissarias are a series of lit and covered galleries. It is here that you will find all types of beautiful fabrics, textiles, blankets, and footwear.
10. Souk Zrabia (or Le Criée Berbère)
Souk Zrabia is a bustling little souk that specializes in rugs and carpets. If you have the time, you could easily spend the best part of a day admiring the bright, geometric designs of the carpets.
It’s hard to believe that this boisterous place was ever the scene of anything more harmful than the odd carpet-dealer dealer. But prior to the French occupation in 1912, this was the site of Marrakech’s slave auctions, where kidnapped West Africans were bought and sold. Eerie!
11. Souk des Teinturiers
Souk des Teinturiers, the so-called Dyers’ Souk is one of the most photogenic and popular souks in Marrakech. Traditionally, this is where wool and silk were naturally dyed into saffron yellows, indigo blues, bright reds, and a spectrum of other colors.
Skeins of freshly dyed wool and fabric in a multitude of colors are hung out on clotheslines to dry in the sun and warm air.
12. Souk des Bijoutiers
This small lane is home to the jewelers’ souk and has plenty of purveyors of gold, silver, and precious jewels. The real draw here is traditional Berber jewelry, decorated with turquoise, jade, ivory, wood, and amber.
13. Souk des Chaudronniers
Souk des Chaudronniers is arguably the noisiest of all the souks in Marrakech. The so-called Metal Workers’ Souk makes its presence felt via the incessant pounding of hammers on metal.
Copper and bronze are still pounded into spoons, pots, pans, bowls, mugs, and all manner of shapes to be used around the home. I wonder how the workers can stand the headache-inducing din?
14. Souk Kimakhnine
The mellifluous Souk Kimakhnine is dedicated to making traditional Maghrebi musical instruments such as rababs (fiddles), ouds (lutes), qanuns (zithers), darbukas (metal or pottery goblet drums), watars (a type of acoustic guitar), and taarijas (tambourines).
It is a must-see for music lovers and one of the best souks to visit if you have kids in tow, where the proprietors will allow them to try out the instruments.
15. Souk Harrarine
This souk is the erstwhile home of the silk market and gets its name from it. It is now home to all kinds of geometrically intricate light fixtures.
16. Souk Haddadine
Probably my favorite of all the souks in Marrakech, the blacksmiths’ souk is one of the most enchanting places in the medina. Massive amounts of ornate lanterns that seem straight out of Aladdin are strung in virtually every shop, giving the entire souk a fairy-tale appearance.
Rivaling the Souk des Chaudronniers in noise levels, the constant clanging of hammers rings through the air in Souk Haddadine and you can feel intense waves of heat as you pass by the furnaces.
Watch with awe as the worker’s tirelessly forge wrought iron into a range of everyday items such as coat hangers, lanterns, wrought-iron grilles, locks, and keys.
17. Souk Chouari
One of the lesser-visited souks, Souk Chouari is the souk of basketry and woodworking. Chouari is the double pannier palm fiber basket that is put on the backs of donkeys. Highly skilled cabinet-makers apply all their finesse and creativity to make novel shapes and decorative motifs.
The cabinet-makers shape the freshly-cut pine into all manner of pieces such as chess boards, jewelry boxes, coffee tables, polished animal sculptures, and salad bowls.
18. Souk El Attarine
Traditionally, Souk El Attarine used to be the famous spice and perfume souk. It is now home to shops mostly selling silver teapots, brass lanterns, and other metal works in abundance. However, a few spice and perfume stalls are still around and the fragrant aroma of perfumes and intoxicating smell of spices linger in the air.
The way these colorful spices are displayed in pyramid-shaped mounds provides a great opportunity for more Instagram worthy pictures in Marrakech.
What to Buy in the Marrakech Souks & How Much to Pay
While you can buy a diverse array of products in the various souks of Marrakech, some items are especially prevalent or make excellent souvenirs and gifts.
Here is a quick list of souk goods and a reasonably fair price for each. Prices are in Moroccan Dirhams (MAD). Ultimately, what you’ll pay depends greatly on your haggling skills.
1. Babouches: These popular handmade leather slippers available in a rainbow of colors are one of the best things to buy in Marrakech. Just be careful to purchase authentic leather babouches and not fabric ones. Expect to pay about 90 MAD for outdoor ones and 150 MAD for the embroidered ones.
2. Scarves: These indigo-dyed cotton tend to be imported from India and are relatively inexpensive. Scarves range from 50-100 MAD.
3. Argan Oil: Argan oil is a plant oil native to Morocco that is not only used in cooking but also as a panacea for a wide range of body ailments. Known for its hydrating and anti-aging properties.
Although Argan oil is widely sold in Marrakech souks, buy it from a reputable dealer to ensure you get the high-grade stuff. Expect to pay up to 150 MAD for a small bottle (150 ml) of Argan cooking oil and up to 220 MAD for a small bottle (150 ml) of Argan cosmetic oil.
4. Carpets: Marrakech is a great place to buy Berber carpets and rugs. Prices vary with size; 3 x 4-meter carpets typically cost 1500-3500 MAD though more ornate carpets, such as carpets from Tazenakht, Taliouin, and Rabat, can fetch 2-4 times as much. Of all the sellers in the souks, carpet-sellers are notoriously the most aggressive and wily.
5. Pouffes: Expect to pay 150-200 MAD for these plain leather-cushioned footstools while the more ornate and embroidered ones range from 300-350 MAD.
6. Lanterns: Lanterns are another popular item to purchase in the souks of Marrakech and are other great additions to any home. Prices range from 100-250 MAD for a small aluminum lantern while the higher quality brass lanterns range from 500-1500 MAD.
7. Ceramics: Decorative plates and bowls, typically from Fez and Safi, will cost anywhere between 40 MAD (small plate or bowl) to 300 MAD (large plate or bowl).
8. Teapots: Made of stainless steel or silver, the squat teapot with a tapering snout is an essential piece of equipment for making Moroccan mint tea. Teapots cost between 150-300 MAD depending on the size.
9. Tajines: If you fell in love with Moroccan food and want to replicate the tastes back at home, a tagine pot is a great item to buy in the Marrakech souks. Do keep in mind, however, that they can be heavy to transport. Prices range from 25-250 MAD depending on size and quality.
10. Leather Goods: Moroccan leather goods are highly sought after commodities due to their durability and high quality. They are made from the hides of cows, camels, goats, and sheep.
This means that you will find leather of different qualities depending on the material. A medium-size leather bag can cost about 250-500 MAD, while leather jackets between 700-2000 MAD.
How to Bargain for the Best Prices in the Marrakech Souks
In Marrakech, bargaining is an intrinsic part of the local culture and is not so much a custom as a duty. In many shops in the souks, no prices are marked and shopkeepers regard it fair that potential clients should bargain over the price of goods.
The prices you pay in the souks ultimately rests on your bargaining skills. As a tourist, you’ll either embrace haggling or loathe it.
Having spent a major chunk of my childhood in India, I sort of acquired decent bargaining skills from observing my mother and grandmother haggle aggressively in bazaars. Jacky, on the other hand, has no bargaining skills and gets very nervous when forced to do it.
When you show interest in buying an item, the shop-owner will quote an absurdly high price, which bears no relation to the real price of the item in question but to test your willingness to make a counter-offer.
In order to haggle effectively, it is vital that you have a general idea of the approximate cost of what you want to purchase and to have a maximum price in mind beyond which you will not go.
Start your first offer at about a quarter of the quoted price and work your way upwards. The aim is to try and reach a price that is beneficial for both you and the seller.
There are no hard-and-fast rules to this mind-game. It’s important not to be overly aggressive. If your seller refuses to give you the price you desire, walk away. This will likely be the catalyst for them to give you a better price, and if not, there are many other shops to shop at.
Just remember never to agree on a price, but then change your mind and refuse to purchase as it is considered rude and poor etiquette.
Essential Tips For Visiting the Marrakech Souks
1. Be Prepared To Lose Your Way: Navigating your way around the labyrinth of narrow alleyways of the souks of Marrakech is challenging to say the least. No matter how proficient your sense of direction is, the dimly lit serpentine pathways will leave you completely disorientated.
It is easy to become discombobulated and the streets and stalls can quickly start to look the same. This isn’t always a bad thing as getting lost in the souks is part of the fun—you never know what might lie around the next corner.
2. Get a Map: The best way to avoid completely getting lost in the Marrakech souks is by getting a map or keeping your GPS switched. However, it’s not very easy to find a map of the medina with a scale small enough to show all the narrow alleys that run through the souks.
3. When a Map or GPS fails just keep in mind that the medina is surrounded by a wall; by walking straight in whichever direction, you should eventually come to the wall of the medina.
Look out for the signposts around the souks pointing to the Jemaa el Fna or the towering minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque to help you get your bearing.
4. Directions: Try to avoid asking random people for directions, as they may offer to take you and then insist on a payment. Instead, always ask shopkeepers in the souks (who cannot readily leave their stalls), local officials, or families with children for assistance.
5. Take a guided tour: To get an insiders’ peek of the Marrakech souks, explore off the main paths and meet some of the craft-makers, it’s well worth investing in a guided souk tour.
A guided tour is also an excellent choice if you’re short on time and for discovering things that you may miss on your own. There several tours to choose from, many include visits to the artists’ workshops.
6. Beware of fake guides: You’ll encounter numerous ‘fake’ guides operating in and around the souks, offering to help tourists to find the best shops and to help them to negotiate for lower prices.
This scam involves the guides steering you into shops (usually their friend’s store or an uncle’s shop) which pay them a commission on anything you buy (added to your bill of course).
7. Check for forgeries: There are plenty of fake items of dubious quality being sold in Marrakech’s souks for very inflated prices, with many being passed off as authentic. Contrary to what the seller may assure you, these goods are very convincing forgeries.
Make sure you know how to spot a genuine from a fake and if in doubt, leave the product behind and save your money. Exercise extreme caution if an offer is too good to be true!
8. Be cautious of the henna tattoo artists in the souks. A common scam involves a woman clutching your hand and to start creating a simple design without you asking for it. She will then try to coax you into getting a larger design and demand payment for something that you didn’t ask for!
The henna artists are known for being notoriously pushy so it’s best to avoid them altogether.
9. Take a breather: Walking around in the souks and being subjected to chronic badgering by all the peddlers can get wearisome.
Competition among the sellers in the souks is fierce, and you must remember that this is their livelihood. If you are too uptight, you will never enjoy the memorable experience of the Marrakech souks.
To keep your head cool and stay energized, it’s wise to take a break every once in a while. There is a bevy of rooftop cafés and restaurants around the souks where you can chill over a glass of refreshing mint tea and soak up some of the lively atmosphere from a distance.
10. Take photographs responsibly: When strolling through the souks of Marrakech, remember to take photographs responsibly. Don’t go shoving your camera or phone into people’s faces haphazardly assuming they’ll be happy to have their photos taken – women especially.
From my experience, most Moroccans are averse to having their photo taken and will generally make it known they don’t want to be clicked. Always ask permission before taking people’s photographs, and be aware that some locals will expect payment in return for that perfect snap.
11. Keep a close eye on your belongings: Remember to keep a close watch on your wallet, camera, and other valuables once you enter the souks, as it is an obvious draw for pickpockets.
I strongly recommend going without the usual tourist trappings such as watches, jewelry, or a belt wallet. Avoid taking out wads of cash in public areas and keep passports in the safe at your hotel.
12. Stay alert: With their myriad sights, sounds, and smells, the souks have many distractions. However, it is important not to lose too much focus in order to watch out for the hazards of myriad motorbikes, bicycles, carts, donkeys, and the crowds of people.
13. Don’t try and see everything at once: While the sounds, odors, and colorful sights of the souks are enticing, it can get overwhelming after a while. To get the best out of the souks of Marrakech, I strongly advise you to visit the souks multiple times if you are staying in the city for a couple of days.
14. Location & Opening Hours: The souks are located about 300 meters north of Jemaa el Fna. Shops in the Marrakech souks follow no set hours, but most are open roughly seven days a week from 9 am until 8-9 pm.
Some of the shops close in the afternoon for lunch. The best time to visit is in the morning or late afternoon.
Now, what do you think? How do the souks in Marrakech compare to markets and bazaars in the rest of the world? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!