We walked down the Rue Souq as-Smarrine off the northern side of Djemaa el-Fna into the labyrinth of eerie alleyways that weave themselves into the totality that is Marrakech’s Souk. There’s a cacophony of smells and noise as you progress through this colourful area, but you will have to lay to rest some of your western standards if you are not to be overly critical or indeed saddened by what you’ll see. There are young children working hard on mundane tasks, being taught the trade by family members, or holding their hand out with their soulful eyes piercing deep into your emotions. There are more signs here of poverty and grime than wealth and comfort. The noise of hammer on metal echoes round the confined spaces and excitable voices try to catch your attention to entice you to spend at their stall.
Despite all of that, it is still somehow an environment that demands you recognise the positives. It is an area where commerce thrives and the industrious succeed; where business deals are struck; where the locals socialise over a cup of tea; where individuals pray to their god; and where children are trained as apprentices in the family business. You get a real sense of social cohesiveness, and despite the dark and dusty alleys, it is neither a threatening nor a sinister environment. We saw locals playing checkers, guys shaving, and youngsters skipping down the alleys.
As you progress through the aisles, sometimes they are so narrow that you can touch both sides from the centre. It will be obvious that specialist areas have been allocated for the different crafts, and we occasionally wondered where the market was for so many copper light holders. We saw every product imaginable, ranging from decorated and carved wooden figures, finely polished wooden boxes, enamelled metal work, delicately engraved silverware, fretted copper, to brightly coloured textiles. We toyed with the idea of buying some of the highly decorated plates and treating ourselves to an elaborately designed tajine. We resisted the large choice of leather items, but were very tempted to buy an exquisitely tooled leather pouf. There were large selections of herbs and spices, many I’d ever even heard of.
Within this area, you’ll be able to call in at an apothecary and be spoken to about the wonders of natural medication. They’ll try to sell you cures for all ailments, obesity, and maintaining the body’s equilibrium. As a cold sore sufferer, I bought an ointment to relieve pain and speed up recovery–wish I’d been less cynical and bought more, as this application really works.
At the bottom end of Souq as-Smarrine is the tourist area selling rug, blankets, tourist trinkets, and souvenirs.
Wherever you are in the Souk, fight the fear that you’ll get lost–all alleys will eventually lead back to the main road and you’ll have a great time exploring. Never give the asking price and enjoy your haggling–I’m convinced that they do!