Marrakech market madness
Yet another journalist's ill-fated attempt to describe the world's craziest marketplace


















"There are other performers too, and while not all rely on snakes, most at least involve the degradation of an animal or small child."


Sunday 6 January 2008


What sets Marrakech's Medina apart from other world class marketplaces, is that it is entirely free from Latin-American panpipe quintets.





But fear not; there's no shortage of local musicians only too willing to don ethnic garb and woefully whistle a tune in pursuit of a Dirham

snake charming though is the big ticket tourist attraction here: It’s like the whale meat of the Tokyo’s fish market or the ‘wallaby skin moccasins’ of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market.


Large crowds mill around the snake charmers in the day and evening, attracted by the incessant drum beat and eerie charming flute, whose melody sails out of and above the stalls and penetrates the winding streets which shoot off in all directions.


Twenty odd snakes in varying degrees of  size and lifelessness rest idle on the ground, prodded into action with the pointy end of a flute, or the temptation of the oblivious chipmunk tethered in the middle of it all, a rough twine leash binding it to a snakeskin rug he plays on.


One man thrusts a water snake towards me.

“Photo? You want a photo? Where you from?”


He looks crestfallen. “You have snakes there too,” he says, doleful. 

There are other performers too, and while not all rely on snakes, most at least involve the degradation of an animal or small child.


Amateur boxing bouts, storytellers and acrobats, they perform not for tourists, but for locals or simply the pleasure of performing – how else to explain the performer whose act consisted only of dragging a small dog by its snout into the middle of a rug next to a lantern. Is there no refuge in the world from avant garde?


Aside from the snakes and performers, it’s the colours and scents which draw the attention. Spices, rich in earthy colours, and heaped so high on their wagon stalls that they give the illusion the vendor is merely a head wobbling on top of a mound of cumin, hustling you for trade.

Olives, pastes, dates sell for a dirham a dozen. And in the heart of it all, the food stalls, serving pita breads bursting open with an egg and sausage concoction, seafood and yet more olives, pastes and dates. It’s a hotspot for tourists, some of whom are studiously ignoring the row of goat heads they are sharing a table with.


Toys too, the type of toys you wouldn’t find at Toys R Us: A model railway with a George Bush figurine chasing Osama on a sidecar. They travel at exactly the same speed and move round in circles, never getting ahead or falling behind – just like daily life in the marketplace.


It’s where you come to buy whichever odds and ends you need for daily life. Soap and toothpaste, pointy-toed yellow leather slippers, and fabrics in every pattern under the sun – though only in polyester.


We need jackets, and voila, there immediately in front of us is a table of hand-me-down jackets in a melange of fluoro so vile they will surely unsettle the most hardened of stomachs.


By the time we move into the partially covered section of the market we have already been walking 15 minutes. Only now do we start to appreciate how huge the nightly event is.  


 We stumble past an aromatherapy stall, attracted by 10 baby tortoises pawing at the wire cage.

“This one’s trying to escape.”

The vendor crudely shoves its wee little nose and paws back through the wire. Escape foiled.


Further in and it’s the preserved animal and skin section. A store selling wolf tail key rings. Rather impractical to carry, but you’d never lose your keys. We clipped them onto the back of our pants, and the vendor laughed and pretended no-one had done it before.


Elsewhere, an enormous eagle is strung up by its tail, one wing hangs loose and shrouds a gazelle’s head. 


Then there is a pristine leopard skin, at least 1.5 metres long, front paw to rear. They are such beautiful animals in the flesh, frankly pathetic in the skin. 


“It’s from Africa. People buy them to make their house look beautiful. And to make the shoes,” he explained.

“And this?” I ask, pointing at one of the several gazelle heads.

“That’s from down the south of Morocco. There are very rare.”

“I bet they are. They are all hanging on your wall.”






























































































A store selling wolf tail key rings - Rather impractical to carry, but you’d never lose your keys.