The souks of Morocco
The most beautiful souks in Morocco: This is often where it all begins and ends. Markets are a gateway to a culture, where you make your first sensory and human encounters. Indissociable from Moroccan culture, souks and markets tell a different story in every region, every town, every district. Some are so vast that they encompass the entire diversity of the country. Others are specialized, focusing on a single, ancestral art: basketry, tanning, carpentry, pottery… We generally return to them at the end of our Morocco tours, having been unable to erase from our memory those mountains of spices, those skilful hands hammering silver jewelry, that deliciously persistent scent of fresh mint.
The souks of Marrakech’s Medina
Marrakech’s Medina boasts no fewer than 17 souks, some of which, founded under the Almoravids, have been in existence for almost eight centuries. Nearly 40,000 artisans are busy in these markets, often grouped by guild: basket makers, tanners, dyers, goldsmiths, blacksmiths and carpet weavers. One of them, the Smata souk, is even entirely dedicated to babouches! Most are located in or near the Medina. The popular Place Jemaa El Fna is a good starting point for a stroll through Marrakech‘s souks. The true heart of the city, the square is bustling with activity. Vendors, musicians, snake charmers and other comedians gather here in a joyful hubbub.
Souk Bab El Khemis, Marrakech’s flea market
The most beautiful souks in Morocco: Under the Almohads, Bab El Khemis, then known as Bab Fès, was one of the main gateways to the Medina, giving access to the Jewish quarter and the amber souk. Today, it is home to a daily market of antique dealers, craftsmen, second-hand dealers and wholesalers specializing in old and second-hand objects. A godsend for lovers of old treasures and vintage pieces, but also for getting away from the tourist routes and closer to the real Marrakech.
Blast l’Houst, Essaouira’s fish market
Essaouira’s destiny is intimately linked to the sea. The first Moroccan port at the end of the 18th century, the town is now very popular with kitesurfers. It’s only natural, then, that Essaouira has a fish market worthy of the name. Located in the Medina, close to the Souk Jdid, the market offers all kinds of freshly caught fish. After wandering between the stalls, you can buy the fish of your choice and have it grilled for a few dirhams more, a tribute to simplicity. Sensitive nostrils be warned: for all the freshness of the produce, this market is also known for its… aroma.
Souk El Had in Agadir, Morocco’s largest urban market
With its eleven hectares and 3,000 points of sale, the Souk El Had is the largest urban market in Morocco. Located in the heart of the Amsterdam district, it is open six days a week, attracting a multitude of shoppers and curious onlookers, both local and foreign. And for good reason: you can find absolutely everything here: food, spices, Berber crafts, as well as clothing, household appliances and furniture. Renovated from top to bottom in 2019, it has fortunately retained its impressive surrounding wall, measuring over 1,000 meters long and six meters high.
The Aït Amar festival souk in Imilchil
In the High Atlas, winter is harsh and some villages can remain isolated by snow for several weeks. Held every autumn, the Imilchil festival is an opportunity for locals to stock up on kitchen utensils, furniture, livestock and… fiancés! For the festival also serves as a meeting place for young men from different tribes – Aït Iazza or Aït Brahim. While some invoke the legend of Tilsit and Iseli, the Moroccan Romeo and Juliet, this tradition has more down-to-earth origins: for a long time, the Aït Amar souk was one of the few places where women could go. For three days, there’s a huge display of festivities, colors, ancestral traditions and, of course, a huge market.
The Grand Socco in Tangier
The most beautiful souks in Morocco: The largest permanent market in the White City, the Grand Socco has brought Tangier’s city center to life since the 1920s. Also known as the Bara souk, it is located on the Place du 9 avril 1947, which it shares with the Sidi Bouabid mosque, with its recognizable minaret of blue and green azulejos, and with the legendary Rif cinema, since converted into a film library. Inside the souk, you’ll find endless aisles of fruit, vegetables, spices and pastries, as well as carpets, clothes, leather goods and second-hand goods. Between two shopping sprees, it’s easy to settle down at a café terrace for a cup of mint tea or a fresh orange juice.
The Rue des Consuls souk in Rabat
Straddling Rabat and Salé, the kilometer-long Rue des Consuls is the main artery of Rabat’s souk. Formerly the residence of foreign diplomats who came to negotiate the release of prisoners under the Republic of Salé, the name has stuck. The Kasbah des Oudayas, a fortress built in the 12th century by the Almoravids (and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is a good starting point for visiting the market. The further you go, the more local the clientele and the more authentic the atmosphere. The souk specializes in handicrafts, with carpets, pottery, wooden and stone objects, and silver jewelry from all over Morocco.
The souks of Fès El Bali in Fès
The most beautiful souks in Morocco: Much like Marrakech, the city of Fès is teeming with souks and markets of all kinds. Its Medina, known as Fès El Bali, is home to several in its own right. One of the most pleasant is the Attarine souk, the market for spices and medicinal herbs. Here, stall after stall of small pyramids of multicolored powders defy gravity and arouse curiosity. The Kissaria souk specializes in the sale of fabrics and embroidery, while the El Henna souk offers henna and black soap – indispensable in the hammam – alongside more modern cosmetics and beauty products. One of the most picturesque souks is that of the tanners, whose leather craftsmanship has made Fès famous for centuries. Here, in the very heart of the Medina, terracotta dyeing basins line up, forming a gigantic open-air painter’s palette.
Other places to visit in Casablanca
A cosmopolitan Atlantic port and Morocco’s economic capital, often overlooked by tourists, Casablanca is a dynamic, creative city. Its heritage is exceptional, including the world’s richest collection of Art Deco buildings, a mix of splendor and decadence: in the early 20th century, it was a veritable architectural laboratory. But its culture is also vibrant: theater, music, graffiti, it’s the artistic heart of the country. What to do in Casablanca in 1 day? From the souk of the new Medina to the corniche, stroll through the white city.
Wake up on the port
The port of Casablanca, halfway between the old medina and the new town, with its ocean views. Shortly after sunrise, you can smell the atmosphere, watch the fishermen repacking their nets, and in the distance, the ships of the national navy and the large merchant vessels, their intricate ropes and their cameo of rusty hues.
Art Deco strolling…
Around Place Mohamed-V, a host of Art Deco monuments. Admire the Banque du Maghreb, with its imposing wrought-iron gate, marble staircase, and glass-paneled ceiling, which alone is worth a visit. Next door, the prefecture has the air of an Andalusian palace. The ABC and the Rialto, where Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier sang, are still theatres and cinemas. The post office, with its lapis lazuli blue zelliges encircling vintage copper letterboxes, is a nostalgic reminder of a time when mail was not electronic.
Discover the work of Jean-François Zevaco
The most beautiful souks in Morocco: Strolling through the city, we discover the work of Jean-François Zevaco (1916-2003), one of Morocco’s most important architects. The Villa Suissa, at the intersection of the city’s three main avenues, now somewhat drowned out by globalized signage, is extravagant in its graphic plasticity, with arrows and curved terraces. In the Fida district, the Assounna mosque, built in the 70s, combines the Brazilian lyricism of Niemeyer and the brutalism of Le Corbusier. We love the extraordinary little market on rue d’Agadir, designed in 1972: a set of stacked concrete courtyards, and individual sales cells in futuristic circular concrete cut-outs. Even today, fish is sold here, and household appliances are repaired in exchange for a few dirhams.
Lunch of couscous and gazelle horns in the new Medina
In the 20s, Casablanca was undergoing dazzling economic development, and thousands of peasants, attracted by the economic prospects, needed to be housed. At Lyautey’s request, architect Albert Laprade designed a low-rent medina – the only medina in the Western world to combine traditional housing with European-style comfort – which was quickly snapped up by the craftsmen and shopkeepers who still occupy it today. Under the shady arcades, you can shop for leather and ceramics – more than in Fez or Marrakech. A little further on, strolling through the alleyways, we fall for the airy Berber couscous at Chez Zayna. After a mint tea, for those with a sweet tooth, the Bennis patisserie is reputed to be the best in the country. At the bottom of a narrow staircase, a tiny sales area, tasty sugar and honey.
Stroll through the old abattoirs
In the working-class Hay Mohammadi district, a wasteland that closed in 2002 has been transformed into a cultural factory. The disused abattoirs, built-in 1922 by Georges-Ernest Desmarest in a combination of neo-Moorish and modernist styles, are impressively monumental. The buildings articulated around courtyard jackets and still equipped with their slaughtering machines, are now home to street artists, designers, dancers and circus performers. The Fabrique culturelle des anciens abattoirs is an atypical venue, unique in Morocco, and the epicenter of Casablanca’s underground culture.
Discover young artists at the Villa des arts
Just a stone’s throw from the Arab League Park, housed in a beautiful Art Deco residence dating from 1934, the marble staircases and wrought-iron ornaments showcase the contemporary collection of the ONA Foundation. Major artists of the new Moroccan painting scene – Ahmed Cherkaoui and Jilali Gharbaoui, Mohammed Chebaa… – are honored here.
Visit the Notre Dame de Lourdes church
The most beautiful souks in Morocco: The Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes church was completed in 1956. The church’s stained glass windows, by Gabriel Loire, a master stained glass artist from Chartres, contrast with the heart’s wood cladding.
Visit the Hassan II mosque
Completed in 1993 after many years of construction, the Hassan II Mosque, whose monumental foundations plunge into the ocean, is an architectural feat. It is also the largest mosque in the Muslim world, apart from the open-air sanctuary around the Kaaba in Mecca. It’s only once you’re inside that you realize just how gigantic it is: the main hall – 20,000 m² – can accommodate 25,000 worshippers at prayer. Its 210 m-high minaret can be seen from hundreds of kilometers out to sea, symbolizing a hospitable and salutary Islam. It is one of the only mosques in Morocco to allow non-Muslim visitors into its grounds. At dusk, families flock to the square, a veritable playground for children. Couples stroll along the shore.
Dining on the Atlantic
Leaving the mosque, take the Corniche to dine by the Atlantic. At the very end of the corniche, near the lighthouse, you’ll find a Mediterranean-style seafood dish, with a spectacular view of the ocean. And we tell ourselves that tomorrow, we’ll go all the way to the beach.
Drinking champagne at Ricks’ Café
The most beautiful souks in Morocco: Of course, Rick’s is a popular tourist spot, a pastiche that has little to do with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca – shot entirely on location in California – but a rather convincing one: immaculate traditional architecture, with arched doors and mosaic floors. The pianist plays As Time Goes By, and the champagne and mojitos are served in glasses similar to those in the 1942 film. So we give in to Hollywood fantasy.