If there is but one travel tip Journey Beyond Travel can impart before your Moroccan adventure, it would be this: pack light. After all, the less you pack, the more room you’ll have for the endless number of crafts and souvenirs you’re bound to pick up along the way!
Morocco is a treasure trove of breathtaking landscapes, dynamic colors, and amazing diversity, all of which comes through in its art. Even if you think you’re not the type to get weighed down with trinkets, be prepared; your first glimpse of a Tafraouti slipper may convince you otherwise.
Moroccan handicrafts are as diverse and unique as the country itself, and the perfect memento of Fes will be altogether different from what jogs your memory back to Essaouira. What’s more, what you find will truly be in the spirit of the place. After all, Morocco has not fallen prey to mass-produced goods. Indeed, almost everything you see will have come from just a few yards away, where traditional artisans still ply their trade in small workshops and community cooperatives.
The following are just a few of the goods Morocco has on offer:
Slippers – Moroccan footwear, often called babouches, is handmade from locally produced leather. While they are ubiquitous throughout the country, Fes is the place to find some truly unique and well-made slippers. The famous Fes tanneries supply the raw materials, and you can watch as master craftsmen sew their latest creations in the small shops that line the medina alleyways. If you stay further south, Tafraout is also known for its footwear. However, unlike the more monotone Fes variety, Tafraouti slippers are embroidered in bright, almost psychedelic patterns.
Rugs – Marrakech and Fes are both excellent places to hunt down the perfect carpet. A guide can help you pick out the different patterns, colors and sizes, as well as give you some background on the origins of the many symbols and motifs in use. Don’t rush past smaller cooperatives, though. Many small towns have carpet and weaving co-ops that would happily show you their wares. In fact, if you already have something in mind, these smaller outposts are often happy to make a custom rug to order.
Lanterns – Moroccan lanterns are wonderful pieces of craftsmanship and can truly dazzle at night. Marrakech is home to most of the country’s lantern makers, but you can find them almost anywhere. Shop assistants can often help you track down certain shapes, sizes and colors, so be open and honest about what you’re looking for. Even if they don’t have it, odds are they know someone who does!
Wood Carving – This is where Essaouira truly shines. While wood carvers ply their trade throughout Morocco, there is something special to be said about the twuia wood found only on the south coast, and locals have been making good use of it for centuries. From larger chess boards and plates, to small boxes and children’s toys, sculptors have perfected the technique of drawing the beautiful from the seemingly mundane, and few visitors leave without at least a small trinket to remind them of the relaxed Moroccan sea coast.
Pottery – Moroccan pottery can vary wildly from place to place, but a few cities have truly put their mark on the ceramics trade. Safi is perhaps the most notable ceramic city, with large markets dedicated to their sale as well as a wide variety of shops and styles. Safi also offers a more relaxed atmosphere for shopping, and since the pottery is made onsite, you’re often dealing with the very men who created the plate in your hands. Outside Zagora, Tamegroute is known for its unique green-glaze pottery.
All this is to say nothing of the natural oils and dyes, knitwear, cooking supplies, tapestry, leather and innumerable other finds you’ll come across as you wander through the souks. Like so much in Morocco, you’ll get the most from your market day with an open mind and a little curiosity. Be prepared to take your time, and be open to whatever strikes your fancy!
Written by Margaret Jackson.
Photo by -sel.