A stall filled with pierced metal lighting in the Marrakech medina.
Shopping is nothing new to Marrakech. Located at the end of the Salt Road and on the way north to Casablanca and Rabat, visitors have poured into Marrakech for centuries as a place for goods, but mostly a feast for the senses.
I don’t pretend to have seen all of the Marrakech medina, even after three trips. But I loved what I saw. From the outside tourist stalls to the winding, skinny unnamed streets that take you past booths filled with everything from antiques to leather goods to basketry and pierced metal lighting, the medina offers an overload of colors, smells, and sounds.
If there’s one piece of advice to pass on, it’s this: first-timers need a guide. Negotiating narrow alleyways with sharp turns where stalls can look alike means you can — and probably will — get lost. After all, you’re rarely focusing on where you’re going.: You’re too busy looking at what’s for sale. My first day in the medina was spent with two women from California, Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder, who arrived at Jnane Tamsna one day early, as I did, for our Culinary Journey to Morocco with Chef Joanne Weir.
In an outside stall, painted little painted open-door mirrors form a backdrop for a collection of mirrored boxes.
Colorful bags and baskets of spices: Marrakech medina
Wooden marquetry boxes on the right; tin items on the left ; baskets overhead!
And when you arrive at the medina, there’s more to see than you can imagine. Like these hands of Fatima, named after the daughter of the prophet Muhammad. The hands, our guide told us, are protective signs bringing the owner a sense of safety, happiness, and good luck.
Hands of Fatima offer protection from evil. We all need one, right?
I really had to hold back in this shop offering some of the finest work on inlaid pieces of furniture, hand-painted pottery, and carvings all in rich Moroccan style.
A home decor shop offered some of the finest pieces in the medina: inlaid tiles, carved wood tables, vases, bowls, and candlesticks.
Blends of white marble and black painted pieces filled this accessory shop in the Marrakech.
Pottery shops became one of our favorite places as well, but we had a hard time figuring out how to pack blue-and-white painted bowls, platters, and salt cellars into our suitcases to take home. (Some of us — I’m not saying who — bought an extra suitcase!)
Lovely painted pottery lined the walls of one stall in the Marrakech medina.
Designer clothing hung over our heads in this shop, but the owner willingly brought pieces down to our level to try on or hold up to see if they would fit.
The designer himself was in this clothing shop to take down any items we wanted to try on.
Our guide, Sharif, took us to a basket place that was touristy, but we didn’t mind. After all, we thought we’d look pretty sassy carrying a Marrakech tote to this beach this summer.
Our guide, Sharif, shows Kendra Hodder the popular pompom we saw on baskets and shoes.
But my favorite areas of the medina were the souks where artisans work every day but Friday crafting specialty items by hand. Families sometimes worked together as this one did in Souk Cherratine where bags, poufs, and coats of camel-skin (most expensive) or goat-hide (more reasonably priced) are made.
This young boy helps his father make leather poufs by cutting out the circles for the bottoms.
A maker of leather poufs took time to pose with my friends Susan Gaither and Kendra Hodder from California.
Souk Smata is devoted to traditional leather slippers. Saffron yellow slippers, we were told, are most popular among adults in Fes. But we chose some for our grandchildren embellished with pom pom balls.
Yellow slippers all in a row in the Marrakech medina.
Overhead in the dyers souk (Souk des Tenturiers) you dodge shanks of yarn hanging from rafters or bamboo coverings. Shopkeepers told us this was cactus silk made from the agave plant. Whatever it was, it took the rich color of the dye quite well. And it was here that we found men who actually didn’t mind if we took their picture. One even posed for the “crazy ladies from the U.S.”
Dyers in Souk des Tenturiers, Marrakech
Dyed yarn hangs from the ceiling: Marrakech
Dyer posing for picture: Marrakech medina
Finally, our guide found us a place to sit down — in a carpet shop. Little did we know that we would spend two hours watching as men rolled out one Berber after another, letting us know regions of origin or weaving techniques or the meaning of the embedded patterns. But sitting down felt good. And we bought rugs we didn’t even know we needed. Not only that, a special treat awaited: hot mint tea! Let the carpet show begin!
Olena Snow, Elena Lebedeva, and Elena Mosko find a handsome Berber rug in the Marrakech medina.
Rugs stacked to the ceiling: Marrakech medina
Most popular colors? Perhaps so.
Rug salesmen unfold rugs while we watch in the Marrakech medina.
In our last souk of the day, Souk Haddadine, blacksmiths and woodworkers plied their trades in small, small spaces.
Whittling with his feet in an old, traditional way.
Working in small spaces: Marrakech Medina
On the way out, we stopped by an argan oil shop to watch ladies in traditional dress shell argan nuts from the Argania spinosa tree. The oil is extracted from the nuts and sold in several forms from lotions to pure oil meant to soften your skin. A great takeaway from Marrakech.
Shelling argan nuts in the Marrakech medina.
Of course, there’s far more in the Marrakech medina. My next post will feature food (at least the stalls that would allow photos of what they offer) sold within and outside the medina.
A sight to see: the Marrakech medina!
Colorful stalls, sounds of motorcycles whizzing through winding maze-like alleyways, artisans hard at work — just another day in Marrakech!
— Rusha Sams
For more pictures of Marrakech, check out my Flickr album: Marrakech 2018: https://www.flickr.com/photos/placeswesee/albums/72157697015074334