One of the joys of Marrakech is to spend an afternoon, day, or even a whole weekend traversing the narrow corridors of the inner Medina’s souks in search of items to enliven your home. The Moroccans have a particular style that pervades through all of the offerings, from lanterns to teapots, rugs to woven raffia goods.
Even if you are limited to hand luggage only, as I was on my last trip to Marrakech, you will still find plenty of little items capable of spicing up a tabletop arrangement or outside seating space.
Many of the stalls sell the same goods, but the ubiquity of these stylish, high-quality items, in fact, makes it much easier to strike a deal. If you don’t like the price being offered at one stall, simply walk on to the next and see if you can get a better bargain there. Nine times out of 10, the owner of the first stall will follow you, shouting lower and lower prices until you relent and reach an agreement.
Obviously, tread a little more carefully if you come across a unique piece in one of the antique stalls, but never pay the first price quoted, and always try to get at least 50-60% off that amount.
Although antique Moroccan treasures are certainly not common at North American flea markets, there is some style overlap with items from other North African countries, France, and Spain. So even if you cannot find exact replicas, it is certainly possible to find similar items closer to home.
Mint tea is an Arab institution, and the residents of Marrakech are no exception. You will perpetually witness groups of men, young and old, gathered around café tables, sipping on this seriously sweet brown-green broth.
Moroccan teapots can be very elegant, but when buying one, it is vital to pick it up and test its weight. Cheap, decorative teapots are incredibly light and not suitable for use, while the more expensive ones have a good, solid weight to them and are clearly made from better quality metals.
Moroccan teapots generally have an engraved pattern around their lower part and the level of elaboration usually plays a role in determining the price. The design that most endears is clearly a personal preference, but I like those that are pockmarked (like the one pictured above) or that carry a simple, flowered pattern.
The insides of Moroccan residences, especially the decadent Riads, often resemble the outside eating spaces of American or European homes. The stifling heat makes direct artificial light a no-no, and therefore, most households use lanterns to color and disperse light, creating interesting rippled reflections and cool, shadowy corners.
As with teapots, it is important to handle your chosen lantern to assess the quality of the materials used in its construction. Some are very fragile and would be unlikely to survive a flight (or drive) home unless very comfortably packaged. Also, expect to pay a little more for those with colored glass.
Most large home or garden stores in America will sell a range of black metal lanterns for outside use that, with a bit of tampering – painting the glass or attaching colored tissue paper – can be made to resemble those from Morocco, if you’re up for a bit of DIY. Vintage flea markets can also throw up some interestingly designed lanterns that will add a dash of character to a chill out room, conservatory, or outside space.
Woven Raffia Goods
Woven raffia goods are everywhere in Marrakech, with the most simple items, such as place mats, available for as little as a dollar apiece. Match those with a couple of patterned bread baskets and you instantly have an unique table arrangement, suitable for indoor and outdoor use.
Also sold are small tangine replicas made from raffia, which, depending on size, can be used as a distinctive home for door and car keys, or indeed television or stereo remotes. Large shopping bags can also be purchased – useful if you take a weekly trip to the market or are cutting down on your usage of plastic bags.
In America, raffia is mostly known as the material from which the traditional Hawaiian hula skirts are made, but it is possible to stumble across some raffia tableware from the 1960s or 70s at a flea market or yard sale.
Moroccan rugs are, at this stage, a standard in many upscale interior design stores and rightly so, for there are few pieces that can compete, either on quality or originality of design.
There are two distinct styles of Moroccan rug: Beni Ourain and Berber. Beni Ourain rugs are usually colored in a neutral tone, typically off-white, but sometimes brown or black, and feature abstract geometric designs. Berber rugs are more colorful, making use of reds, yellows, oranges, and purples.
The souks of Marrakech are home to a dizzying volume of unique designs. From small bath mats to large rugs, there is sure to be something that matches your requirements.
If you are unable to make the trip to Morocco then fear not, because the longstanding popularity of Moroccan rugs means that second-hand pieces can often be found closer to home.
There is no substitute for the atmosphere of Marrakech, but with some hard work and perseverance, it is certainly possible to find comparable items at a market or sale closer to home.
All photos courtesy of the author.