“How much you want to pay for it?”. “I don’t know if I want them”. “How much you pay?” There was no getting out of this tiny nook that passed for a shop off one of the small streets of the souk unless I bought the shoes I had stupidly commented on to the husband while passing by. Luckily, I did actually want them and they turned out to be really, really comfortable.
Walking through the souks of the Red City of Marrakech can be a frightening experience. We read about the chaos of its streets and were warned by our friends who had visited before and still we were not prepared for the hubbub we found. But the souks will also reward you with life and colours, so many colours. From the babouches (Moroccan slippers), leather and straw woven bags, to carpets, spices and lamps, the souks are a wonderful place to get lost. And, trust me, you will get lost.
The backbone of the souks is the Souk Semmarine, filled with souvenir stalls and most of the tourists. It goes from Jemaa El Fna all the way up to Rahba Kedima square. Don’t get too comfortable in the narrow streets; there are locals going around with carts, on bicycles and on scooters! Trust me, we spent quite a lot of time jumping out of the way trying not to get run over. If you are planning a Morocco trip with kids it might be best to wait until they are a bit older as I would not recommend going through souks with a pram.
We quite enjoyed the Rahba Kedima, the spice square; it was the first time we saw carpets hung up from buildings, changing their colours in the sun. As you can guess from the name, there are many spice stalls; colourful mountains each with its own enticing smell, the strongest one by far coming from the blocks of pure eucalyptus which made our eyes water when put within 10cm from our nose. In the middle of the square women sell woven handbags and beach bags, some of them with fashionable quotes like “Life’s a beach”.
One of my favourite memories from this place is a perfume seller who had a teeny tiny baby chameleon; it was absolutely adorable, smaller than my pinky. I wanted to take it, put it on my shoulder and have it travel with us. Of course, I did not do that, but it would have been so cool!
A few streets away from the tiny chameleon that stole my heart, we saw a shop with several big bags of grain. One of them was being used as a bird bath by house buntings who used it for a dust bath in the heat of the day. Another animal we kept seeing continuously were little tortoises – we still have no idea why they were being sold in such big numbers and, honestly, I am not sure if we would like to know the reason. Another common animal in the souks are the cats, they were everywhere, sleeping in babouches, on chairs, under stalls… I touched upon the animals of Morocco in my earlier post.
From the main souks there will be many smaller “run offs” taking you to more specialised ones: Souk Chouari (Carpentry souk) with fine carved woodwork; Souk of the Teinturiers (Dyers souk) with dozens of bolts of cloth in different colours drying from the wooden frames; or our favourite Souk Haddadine (Blacksmiths souk). Despite the loud noises, welding spatter flying everywhere and the smell of ozone and metal in the air, we found this souk most calming. Must be because of the husband’s profession. OR maybe because it was quite deserted compared to the others. It is quite close to Le Jardin Secret and Ben Youssef Mosque (both the mosque and school were closed for refurb while we were there). Both of these are good orientation points.
I already mentioned that souks will show you all the colours of the world and I was not exaggerating. In the shade of the narrow streets under wooden covers there are pashminas moving in the sight breeze, in another street you see ceramic bowls and plates with Moroccan designs, another souk over, copper and brass lamps are hanging off the doors, light shining through their intricate latticework or stained glass. Then you smell the mint and before you know it you are surrounded with heaps of different types of mint and next to it, olives, beautiful olives in all shapes, sizes and colours.
You can spend a whole day in the souks and still not see every corner or every hidden nook that offers excellent photo opportunities. Whether you enjoy crowds or not, souks are an experience on their own and no trip to Morocco should pass without a visit to the lively chaos of their streets.