Wander into the Khemisset Carpet Market, held on Tuesday every week around the year, and you magically travel back a few centuries. One traveller described it as feeling “like she was in the Middle Ages.” I tend to agree. Many locals still use horse-drawn carriages, donkeys and mules to get around and transport goods, lending a real 15th century feel to the place.
A word to the wise, learn the Moroccan word: balek — this means: watch out! Be sure to quickly move aside if you ever hear this behind you in busy markets and crowded medinas, like Fez. Your respect level will increase exponentially with the locals!
Finding the Khemisset Carpet Market
The inconspicuous town of Khemisset lies just 80 kilometers east of Rabat. Its swarming outdoor Tuesday Souk is a big draw for the locals. Any other day, Khemisset is a ghost town, but on market day, it teems with people and livestock. It’s been this way for hundreds of years. The pulsating noise of animals being carted in and out is just as deafening as the booming loudspeakers of vendors emphatically peddling their wares.
Nestled in the middle of the chaos of vendors — selling plastic platters, car tires, piles of pumpkins and stacks of pomegranates as far as the eye can see (seasonal produce is always available) — is the real hidden gem: The Khehmisset Carpet Market. You won’t come across many tourists here, but you will find the best deals on beautiful, handwoven local rugs!
The Khemisset Carpet Market Has Unique Charm
Underneath all of the dust and straw you will discover a rawness and warm heart to this odd little pearl encased within the quotidian pandemonium of a Moroccan souk.
Meander in from the chaotic hustle and bustle of the outside. Immediately, you will feel the strange calm of the carpets draped all over the dilapidated walls of the vast building housing the carpet souk. Picture an old barn with bright red cement walls that have, over the years, crumbled, fragmenting like weary travelers. Adjacent are two rustic, straw-covered walkways. There is no electricity. Instead, the open windows give plenty of daylight to gaze onto the many delights offered by the mostly female vendors. Beautiful photos, if taking pictures is your passion, are to be had.
Most Carpets Are from the Middle Atlas Region
In such a hodgepodge of textiles and fabrics, you will find every size and color of hand-woven Moroccan rugs — from bright reds and yellows and blues to more subdued grays and whites. There are a range of fabrics, too. The choices are extensive! From soft, fuzzy shags to close-woven cottons and silks. Be prepared to bargain and to take your time.
By 10 am, the selection of rugs begins to dissipate and the vendors start to slowly pack up their merchandise. The rug souk, once again, takes on a sleepy mid-day feel and by 12 pm, everyone is gone and the building is back to its quiet isolation. Another busy morning bartering rugs is done.
Quick Tips to Navigate the Khemisset Carpet Market
- The Early Bird Gets the Best Carpets — The earlier you appear, the better. The best time to arrive is around 7 am.
- Hold the Coffee — There are no toilets in the market and unless you want the entire Tuesday Market staring at you and your business, it’s best to stop before you arrive to take care of any bathroom needs. There are several gas stations leaving and entering Khemisset and each have decently clean toilets, cafes and convenience shops.
- Bring the Bottled Water: Bring water in case your overly-enthusiastic rug shopping tendencies make you thirsty.
- These Boots Are Made For Walking — Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes as you will be walking through the dusty, dirty open-air markets.
- Don’t Despair — If you can’t find the carpet market once you are in the thick of the Tuesday market, ask for the “Souk Zrabi.” Friendly locals will point you in the right direction.
- Buyer’s Guilt — If you happen to go overboard, don’t worry. You won’t be expected to lug 15 heavy rugs to your car. There are a handful of handy guys waiting around with carts to load up your rugs and maneuver them to your vehicle. Tip 10-20 dirhams per cart.
- Say What? — Some of the older vendors still use the old Moroccan “rial” money in terms of conveying their prices versus the “dirham” of modern Morocco. The dirham was introduced to Morocco in 1960. If you run into any issues, there will always be a helpful vendor nearby that speaks some French and/or English and can assist you. If you’re handy with math, 20 rial = 1 dirham.
- Baby, You Can Drive My Car — Parking at Khemisset is 5 dirhams. There are several different lots around the market, all of which are unpaved and around a five-ten minute walk to the rug souk. Part of the charm and adventure is the fascinating walk through the open-air market.
- I’ve Got My Eyes On You — The open-air market is an extremely busy meeting point for hundreds of people on any given Tuesday. Be ready for crowds of people and animals. Keep a good hand on your purse and be continually aware of who is around, just to play it safe.
About the Author
Tara Fraiture is a dual British-American national. She now lives in Morocco with her cat, three kids and husband. In her free time, Tara enjoys belly dancing (badly) and impersonating accents (she’s a whiz, much to her children’s delight). Tara has happily lived in Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, El Salvador, and Qatar. After many years of teaching French and Spanish, this global nomad found her passion (or perhaps her demise) in freelance journalism and she has been furiously writing ever since. And as she puts it, “writing is cheaper than therapy.” Humor is part of her mantra, as well as finding stories with heart and human connection.