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A Guide to Marrakesh’s Souks

Posted: 2nd October 2015 08:36

Visiting a souk is an iconic Moroccan experience and there is no better place to start than the site of the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco; Marrakesh.  Worlds away from the air conditioned malls of the western world, the timeless scenes unreeling inside these labyrinthine walls could be taking place at any point in the past few hundred years.  The strong aroma of peppermint tea, the dominating colours and the reverberating yells are enough to push anyone into sensory overload, but once you know what to expect, you can shed your previous shopping expectations and begin to enjoy the unique experience.

Crowds

The cries erupting from vendors and the crush of haggling, stampeding shoppers in Marrakesh’s souks can be disorienting.  It makes shopping on Christmas Eve at home look like a peaceful activity.  This claustrophobic atmosphere is an authentic part of a souk’s ambience and although you will likely be bashed in to and lead astray by the swarms of people, the trick is to remain calm, hold on to your belongings and embrace the bustle as you act like you have the slightest idea where you’re going.

Haggling

If you popped into your local mall and started challenging the store attendants with regards to the pricing, you would almost certainly be escorted off the premises.  In a souk however, bargaining is an accepted, almost obligatory, element of shopping.  Vendors will expect you to offer a lower price and will then engage you in some friendly, back and forth negotiation before eventually settling on a figure.  The best advice is to know what you are willing to pay, remain calm, patient and persistent and remember that this is a mutually beneficial deal.

What’s for sale?

Shoppers from all over the world pilgrimage to Morocco, fantasising about quality textiles, traditional hand-woven rugs and the bejewelled lamps that diffuse a soft light betwixt curtain-laden walls.  However there is much more to be discovered in the depths of these Moroccan mazes.  From tagine to wildlife and everything in-between, the souks have it all.  Whether you’re in the market for a bag of olives, the head of a sheep, or a bowl of snail soup, you certainly won’t be leaving disappointed.

What is Where?

Historically, the souks of Marrakesh were divided into retail areas for particular goods, meaning that you could find a certain product in the appropriate corresponding location.  Today, these boundaries have been blurred and divisions have become hazy, but there are still some elements of order that remain.  Some of the main sectors to look out for are leather, carpets, metalwork and pottery.  On locating these sections you will easily be able to compare the quality and prices of the products being offered.

Watch Out!

The competition for your custom is aggressive so you must prepare yourself for some forceful sales techniques.  Spend too long contemplating a purchase and you may attract the attention of a money-hungry vendor who will apply as much pressure as possible to finalise the sale.  It’s essential to remember that you have no obligation to buy anything, but if you’re still apprehensive about taking to the medinas unaccompanied then there is the option to hire a licensed guide who will provide you with historical knowledge as well as purchasing guidance.  Watch out for unlicensed guides however as they are likely to have an ulterior motive and an intention to rip you off.