Souks are not only markets. They were originally developed in cities that acquired enough political and economic strength to become essential centers and hubs for national, continental; and transcontinental trade. Thousands of artisans and merchants operated hundreds of workshops and shops. Dozens of caravans arrived into these premises loaded with tremendous quantities of raw materials, finished, and semi-finished products. Days later they would leave with precious goods to market along their trails, or to deliver in other cities and countries. This continuous chain activity needed organization and regulation.
Because of the nuisances it caused in Fes (noise, pollution, street congestion) the idea of spreading different parts of the Souks amidst residential districts was not replicated in Marrakesh. The souks were developed as a stand-alone district with several ways in and out linked directly to the city’s main gates. There are no houses in that space as it is only a working area.The Souks are organized in a very convenient and user friendly way.
Immediately around the Souks a large number of Foundouks were built. Some of these large buildings are used as medieval inns for business travelers. Others served for storage, and some used as stables for the caravans’ pack animals.
The central part, a large street, is an endless row of retail shops that showcase samples of what is available for the buyers to choose from or order. Off this exclusively commercial part there are single activity sections occupied by guilds specializing in different crafts. This explains why we refer to these markets in the plural form: the yarn market, the dyers’, carpet dealers’, horse saddles, utensils (silver, nickel silver, pewter, copper & brass), wrought iron, leatherwear (shoes, belts, bags, ottomans, folders, book covers), spices, carpenters, wood carvers and painters, cloth and fabrics weavers, etc… These spaces host workshops, warehouses as well as regular size shops. Every guild has a board of regulators presided over by a provost. This body consisted of elected master artisans and influential merchants whose responsibility is to monitor the quality of products, to ensure the fairness of the transactions. Moreover, they practice essential mediation services in disputes between professionals themselves as well as between professionals, suppliers, and clients.
The creative hard work and goodwill of all these people concurred to making the Souks a world of marvels that satisfies the needs and tastes of locals and travelers alike. Besides being a heaven for the treasure hunters the Souks are also a wonderful human environment to explore.