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Friday, 25 April 2014 12:00 AM

Holiday Attractions in Morocco - Marrakech Souks (and Haggling)

The souks of Morocco are the heart of Moroccan life and often an interesting place to visit during your Morccan holiday away from the main tourist attractions along with the tanneries and communal ovens.

We have written elsewhere about the main attractions of Marrakech - the Saadian Tombs and El Badi Palace (in the kasbah region of Marrakech medina), the Ben Youssef Madrasa and the Museum of Marrakech (just to the north of the main souk of the medina), the Majorelle, Menara and Agdal gardens (just outside of the medina to the north and south).

Marrakech Souks

The heart of a Moroccan village, town or city is its souk – the market – and Marrakech is no exception. The souk of the medina of Marrakech is really a number of markets each having a different speciality and offering different items for the public, but when wandering through you would be excused for believing that it was just one large and endless souk.

The main labyrinth of souks (much of which is covered, with doors locked at night) lies from the north end of the main square (Jemaa el Fna). Popular items include carpets, slippers, lamps, leather bags, pots (including tajines – the Moroccan cooking pot), jewellery and spices, but almost any item can be found somewhere and in certain areas you will see artisans at work making all the items you see elsewhere.

Where Marrakech’s souks do differ from most others is that the heart of the souk is focussed on the international tourist visitors, and this has its pros and cons. Whilst the shops sell more appealing items (all subjective I know) for tourists and the shop keepers normally speak enough understandable French or English, prices might be higher than elsewhere and the shop keepers can be keener than elsewhere to get a passing tourist into their shop.

As a matter of etiquette, if you are taking a photo of an individual and they are aware of this a small discrete gift (a dirham or a purchase from their shop) may be appropriate and, if helped or guided by anyone they may seek a similar gift (hence if you do not need help do not start to accept such just because you don’t want to say no and appear to be impolite).

Be prepared to say “no but thank you” to the various shop keepers or Moroccans offering their help unless you are particularly interested in an item or needing help, and you should find your wanderings relatively easy and unwarranted attention is short-lived.

Haggling

Bargains are to be found in the souks and haggling will be necessary and is part of the shopping experience in Morocco.  Haggling is not about getting the last penny off the price or to get the same price as a local – you are a (relatively) well-off visitor and they know it – but it is about agreeing a price that you and the shop keeper are happy to agree and should be an enjoyable part of the buying process. Obviously the shop keeper will not sell unless they make a profit. Typically the item you want will be available in several shops in the same area so during the haggling process you may wish to walk away and check-out other options but once a deal is agreed in a shop you must honour it (rather than decide that in the end you don't really want it).

All in all, the Marrakech souks will give your senses a great workout and, if you don’t rush and are prepared for the occasional insistent shop keeper, they can offer hours of interest during your holiday.