In December, I’ll be writing about some of the great markets of the world. Four of these we’ve visited, and one is on my wish list!
I’ll always remember Marrakech as a city of the senses. I’ve never visited a place that I remember the sounds, smells, looks and tastes of more than Marrakech. And the markets, or souks, were the perfect microcosm of that.
Although we’re independent travelers and usually prefer to see places on our own, we hired a guide in Marrakech. The souks, each one devoted to a specialty, are a bit of a maze, and trying to maneuver our own way would have been difficult.
The dyers’ souk was a spectacle of colours. Swags of cloth were suspended from poles that criss-crossed narrow alleyways. Enormous carts of vividly coloured materials sat waiting to be spun into carpets. And bolts of cloth lay, floor to ceiling, awaiting purchase by eager buyers. In the back of one stall, bowls of unmixed pigments were ready to be mixed with water to dye a bundle of headdresses.
Almost as brilliant, and wonderfully fragrant, was the spice market. Row after row of sacks brimmed with saffron, cumin, paprika and other brilliantly-hued spices. For someone like me, who loves to cook, it was almost impossible to walk by these stalls without imagining the bounty I could create, sparked by such a rush of inspiration.
Of course, negotiations are a big part of the shopping experience. My older daughter, twelve at the time and clutching a fistful of dirhams (the Moroccan currency), wanted to participate in that, too. She enjoyed bargaining for a cushion until the transaction became overwhelming, owing to the eagerness of the vendor and her inexperience. We were able to step in at the end and help her negotiate a lovely yellow cushion that still adorns her bedroom.
The metalworkers’ souk was filled with intricately-shaped lamps dangling from the ceilings. In the chemist souk, we visited a professional-looking and tidy booth stocked with bottles of various shapes and hues that promised to heal any ailment. We only saw a slice of these sprawling markets and won’t forget them soon.