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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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