A Magical Mix: the Medina of Marrakech

A stall filled with pierced metal lighting in the Marrakech medina.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pom poms and embroidered words on baskets were popular this summer in the Marrakech medina.

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.

This young boy helps his father make leather poufs by cutting out the circles for the bottoms.

This maker of leather poufs took time to pose with two ladies from California.

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.

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.”

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!

In our last souk of the day, Souk Haddadine, blacksmiths and woodworkers plied their trades in small, small spaces.

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.

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.

Bombarded by the sights and sounds of Marrakech, we headed into the medina to encounter even more sensory overload!

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

About Oh, the Places We See

Met at University of Tennessee, been married for 47 years, and still passionate about travel whether we're volunteering with Habitat Global Village, combining work at Discovery with pleasure, or just seeing the world. Hope you'll join us as we try to see it all while we can!
This entry was posted in Marvelous Morocco, Morocco, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to A Magical Mix: the Medina of Marrakech

  1. Bob Alcorn says:

    Makes me want to visit ! Thanks for the pictures!

    • Thank you for taking a look! We had a great trip, Bob. One that you would enjoy. So many sights and colors in Morocco. Plus, we saw mountains, desert, cities, country, and the sea. Stay tuned for more posts as I get time. Of course, I took more pictures than I needed to!

  2. Your post brought back wonderful memories of our time in this souk and the ones in Fes and Essaouira. So much to see for sure. I have to admit that we never used a guide although can see why one would! We quite enjoyed the getting lost aspect as of course eventually one finds ones way and when you get lost you discover all sorts of unexpected treasures.
    Lovely pics and story.

    Peta

    • The getting lost part does have its advantages. And there is so much to see in the medina that I kept getting distracted. I wanted to buy a lot more than I could carry home, but satisfied myself by taking pictures when allowed. I could return over and over and over again — I love seeing what people do and what a country produces. It’s all in the medina, I do believe!

  3. Valentina says:

    So many years later, I can still smell the Souk, especially the spices and the leather. At night it was magical, but I had to have a male escort, I was suggested not to go alone.

    • You’re right! Getting lost would not be fun; however, two friends of mine did get lost and enjoyed the solo wandering — for two hours. I’ll admit that our guides (and I had a different one each time) took us to their favorite watering holes and vendors. It would be nice to find my own, linger, stop to take pictures, and find goods on my own. Both ways are good. Just wouldn’t want to miss the souks. Sooooo much to see.

  4. Pit says:

    Thnaks for this (and the other) interesting post(s). I love the pictures as they really capture the life there.

  5. Amy says:

    What a cool shopping experience, Rusha!!

  6. Tina Schell says:

    Wow Rusha, amazing. What an incredible array of colors and textures. But how did you fit the rug in your suitcase 😊😊

  7. Joanne Weir says:

    All my favorite places!!! I want to be there now.

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