The souks of Marrakech are often a highlight for visitors. Indeed, the bustling atmosphere, the bargains, the thrill of haggling and the assault on the senses is often a big part of the reason for people to take a trip to Morocco’s Red City.
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 travelled 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.
Growth of Marrakech’s souks
As the local population grew, vendors started to hold smaller souks close to main communities. Using donkeys, camels and carts to navigate the labyrinth-like streets of the medina, trading areas close to home made shopping easier for locals. Thus, the convenience also increased the number of items being bought. Neighbourhood souks originally mainly sold everyday essentials.The smaller neighbourhood souks gradually grew, as more traders saw the opportunity to increase sales. Many souks expanded so much that they merged with nearby souks.Local artisans and craftsmen often lived and worked close to others in the same trade. Communities of artisans grew, hence why there were traditionally some souks dedicated to particular goods. People sold their wares from or near their workshops. This is why today’s visitors will still find separate areas in some souks – for example in the Carpet Souk close to Rahba Lakdima.