Early history of souks in Marrakech
A souk is the name given to an Arab market. Traditionally an open-air market that locals relied on for their essential items, a souk would have travelling merchants passing through them once a week, once a month or at other infrequent periods.
Marrakech’s strategic location at the heart of Morocco, however, meant that many traders came through the city every day.
Sitting on important trading routes, people passed through here from the north, south, east and west. Located at the centre of ancient commerce networks, goods found their way to Marrakech from all over Morocco, surrounding African countries and farther afield.
Merchants often traveled by camel or donkey, usually with a heavily laden caravan.
The vast number of traders visiting Marrakech is a major reason why the medina has so many gates; access to the main part of the city was made easier for merchants.
The Bab Doukkala gate, for example, was used by merchants from El Jadida, to the northwest of Marrakech, and nearby areas. The medina’s large gates opened early in the morning and closed every evening.
Merchants who arrived late had to spend the night outside of the protective walls. Those who arrived in time typically slept in mosques, or fondouqs – accommodation for merchants and their animals.
The trading action took place at Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s large square, with numerous sellers offering an array of goods.
1. Never accept the first asking price
Typical guide price to pay in the Souks is about a 3rd of what you’re being offered but you can probably go a lot lower!
At the end of the day, pay what you feel happy with of course but this was one of the biggest tips I was given when I first arrived and it proved to be very true.
You can almost always haggle to get the price to a third of the initial asking price.
2. Pay attention to vehicles all around you
And by vehicles, I mean everything from donkey carts to cars. I’ve seen cars squeeze through the tiniest little streets and had a cart roll over my foot.
Its so easy to get carried away with all the amazing sights, sounds and smells and not realise that there’s a queue quickly building behind you.
3. It’s surprisingly easy to get lost here.
Getting lost in the Souks isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Eventually, you’ll find your way around and it’s fairly safe to navigate so the main worry about getting lost here isn’t as much to do with safety as it is to do with wasting your own time.
Pay attention to where you’re going and look out for familiar markers so if you do get lost, you’ll at least know when you’re back on the right track to the main square of the Souks
4. Beware of helpful strangers.
Every interaction in the Souks of Marrakech is heavily laden with purpose. People usually want one thing or the other from you – even when it doesn’t seem like that initially, it almost always ends up that way.
This is not a bad thing in itself – just remember that there’s a ‘goal’ behind every conversation and you’ll be fine.
Tips for being safe in Marrakech
As with most places where a lot of people congregate, pickpocketing and bag snatching can be a problem. Fasten bags and keep a tight grip. Make sure your wallet is in a secure place – not your back pocket!
Haggling is an essential part of shopping in the souks. Keep things light-hearted and friendly while negotiating and, if you can’t settle on a price, it’s OK to walk away. However, don’t agree on a price and then not go through with the sale.
The constant calls and attempts to entice buyers can become a bit tiresome after a while. Take a break and head to a caffee for a breather.