Morocco | The Souks
The souks of Marrakech are iconic, many travel to Morocco in search of treasures old and new, and the souks in the bustling Medina are the best places to source forgotten goods. Read on to discover our souk adventures...
HIDE AND SOUK
It is ever so easy to get completely lost in the network of souk channels, so take a moment to catch your bearings and plan accordingly. One of the first things you’ll notice once you are immersed in the veins of the market streets is the intense smell of leather that wafts from street to street, alive with hints of spices and potpourri. The earthy souks are home to thousands of market stalls selling all sorts of wonderfully Moroccan crafted goods, you’ll pass by leather shoes, ornate handbags, woven rugs, gleaming ceramics, and wooden figures. Alcoves are carved out and winding paths take you through the souks, like following a river to the sea it is hard not to be swept away by the flow, next thing you know you are the other side of the city!
SOUK AND YE SHALL FIND
The souks are a tapestry of history, the crumbling walls held together with wooden slats, the century-old doors leading you to garden courtyards, the passing donkeys carrying tools and the smells of fermenting spices whisk you into a Moroccan blur. This history, however, is not stagnant, it is alive, buzzing with tradition. Local craftsmen set up small studios in the souks, where they spend their days finely crafting and shaping wooden bowls, painting ceramic pots and weaving blankets; it is an honour to observe them work away so effortlessly. This traditional work is an art form, so perfectly executed and pure. We stopped by the workshops to watch the creation of eyeliner pots, small intricate wooden pots with a lid and small stick for applying the blackest of eyeliner, each one painted so delicately. Each one a reminder of the past and the time it takes to handcraft something that today is often made of industrial plastic.
And although the souks are a wonderful kaleidoscopic adventure of colour and intricacy, it is also a place where the Moroccan culture thrives, the Arabic and French language swelling through the streets. It is a busy and overwhelming confusion of energy, so be sure to seek out the perfect hidden spots that are located around the souks to catch your breath after a morning of exploration.
A PIGMENT OF OUR IMAGINATION
Some of our favourite places to visit deep in the depths of the Marrakech souk are the many pharmacies that exist, scattered across the city. You can spot them by the tables outside, tables laden with bowls of pigment powder of the most extraordinary colours, wilder than that of the imagination.
On our most recent trip to Marrakech, we popped back to some of our favourite pharmacies and stopped to chat with a local pharmacist who gave us the most wonderful education on the natural colours found in the valleys of the Atlas Mountains.
These incredibly vibrant colours are found all over the city, velvet powders with such an intensity you have to blink twice to make sure your eyes are not deceiving you. The Blue Majorelle is perhaps the brightest of all; the richest hue we have ever laid our eyes on; and it is of course named after French artist Jacques Majorelle who feel deeply in love with Morocco and honoured the city by creating his garden, Jardin Majorelle just outside the Medina.
The brown pigment, top left, is named the ‘Blue Magic’ an earthy hue that when mixed with any other substance such as water, oil or paint transforms into a generous blue colour, a whimsically wonderful powder that originates from the natural minerals at the base of the mountains. The red powder is a versatile substance which is the basis for the famous Moroccan lipstick. This powder is crafted and fired into small pot like ornaments, the intention is to then smear water on their surface and collect on one's finger a fantastically rich stain which can be used as a lipstick or a blush. The bright pink powder, like the others, is all natural and comes from the roses that bloom beneath the mountains.
The souks of Marrakech are a complex labyrinth of colour, and detail, a treasure chest of lanterns, jewellery, spices and clothes. People travel from around the world to get lost in its elaborate channels that glisten into the night.