Fez has been a trading centre for all of its 1200 years. It could be argued that the only substantial changes during that time have been the means by which the traders and customers arrive here, the camels having been superannuated. Most of the buying and selling, and much of the production, happens in the souks, which are clusters of stalls, bazaars and workshops where products of a similar kind are sold and often made. Need a pair of leather shoes or a bag? Head for one of the tanners’ souks. A stool? A cauldron? Spices? There are souks for each of these and much more.
The two main drags, Tala’a Kebira and Tala’a Seghira, function as catch-all shopping streets. The quality of the merchandise here runs the whole gamut, from made-on-the-spot treasures to mass-produced junk with a sprinkling of very good (and expensive) antiques and carpets. Often you’ll need a trained eye to be able to tell the difference. Bargaining is a way of life. Know that the first price you’re given will probably be a great deal more than the merchant actually expects to get, perhaps even double. Note also that if you shop with a guide, a commission will be quietly added to the total, to be collected later. Credit cards are generally accepted only in the few modern shops, where prices tend to be non-negotiable.
Opening hours for the shops in the Medina vary slightly according to prayer times, but in general they tend to be open from 8:30am until 1pm, and in the afternoon from 4pm until 9pm. Many shops are closed on Fridays.
■ The stalls in the Funduq Ka’at Smen [B-2], down a long, arcaded alley off Tala’a Kebira, sell smen (rancid butter), olive oil,khlia (a snack of preserved meat), honey and argan oil, used in natural cosmetics. ■ Funduq Tazi is for leather, and includes some workshops where leather is stretched over ceramic drums.
If you follow Tala’a Kebira downhill, from Boujloud towards the Karaouine mosque, the road changes names to reflect the various types of wares that were, and often are still, made and sold in souks along the way. At a certain point it becomes RueChrabilyine [B-2], reflecting the slippermakers who once held sway here, now largely replaced by stalls selling babouches (the traditional Moroccan heel-less slippers) and new or used modern footwear. Further along is the ■ Aïn-Allou souk, named for a fearful criminal captured by Moulay Idriss, with an expanded selection of leather goods, including bags and poufs. Continuing, the Msamriyine area was that of the basket-weavers and the Chakakyrine the bag-makers. Henna and traditional cosmetics, now also local pottery, are sold in the tree-shaded ■ Henna Souk; the scales used by the mohtassib to check vendors’ weights and measures are still on display. Next comes one of the most colourful and fragrant souks in Fez, that of the perfumers, ■Attarine [C-2], where both traditional cosmetics and spices are sold. At the entrance to the Moulay Idriss Zawiya is a candle souk catering to pilgrims. Just before the Karaouine mosque, the ■ kissaria is a large, covered and rather modern-looking souk selling fabrics and traditional clothing.
■ To the south of Tala’a Kebira, the Nejjarine Souk [B-2] is a single street dedicated to furniture carvers - making mainly cedarwood wedding thrones - in the square of the same name.
■ Near the Nejjarine, the Dabbaghin Souk [C-1/2] (‘tanner’s quarter’) is attached to the Chouara Tanneries and specializes in colourful babouches (traditional footwear) and other leather merchandise.
■ Chickens, doves and pigeons are sold on a street in the Achebine Souk [C-1], north of Tala’a Kebira, which once housed traditional medicine shops. There is only one of these left, where the merchandise consists largely of animals, whether living, preserved or in parts (eg. skins and horns), and hundreds of jars containing roots and twigs.
■ The Honey Souk [C-1], in a little square near the Ain Zleten car park, offers all sorts of flower-scented honeys as well as argan and olive oil.
■ In Seffarine Square [C-2] is the souk for metal workers, who noisily make everything from cooking pots to samovars and light fixtures.
If you’re interested in food markets, there is a good produce souk near Bab Boujloud and a very large general food market at the R’Cif Souk.
A bit of everything
• Les Mysteres de Fez, 53 Derb Bin Lemssari, Sidi Moussa, Guerniz, near Museum Belghazi offers good antiques, jewellery and new handmade objects.
Guide books and maps
• The best selection of English-language books is at the Arabic Language Institute in Ville Nouvelle, but a small stand in Place Batha carries a variety of guide books to Fez and Morocco.
Carpets and antiques
• Chez Khalid & Si Mohamed at Tala’a Kibera and Derb il Horra. Good carpets, embroidery, manuscripts.
• Jaouad Zouhri at 8 Zkak Errouah, Souikt Ben Safi. Museum-quality textiles and antique objects.
• Au Petit Bazaar du Bon Accueil at 35 Tala’a Seghira, across from the fountain. A mix of stuff on the ground floor, ask to go upstairs to see better quality antiques.
• Palais de Fès at 15 Mokhfia in R’Cif is a pretty guest house as well as a reputed carpet shop.
• Hamid, tiny shop on Tala’a Kibera on left just past the Cherableen Mosque sells hendiras and old garments. Good antique items will appear magically if the owner thinks you know your stuff or have money to burn.
• Dar Mansour, near the Choara dye pits, is a lovely ryad where kilims and carpets from all over Morocco are offered.
• The Kissaria, at the end of Tala’a Kibera includes several small shops selling textiles, some hand-woven.
• Haja El-Khalfaoui Fatima, near Medersa Bou Inania, offers a wide range of hand- and machine-embroidered articles.
• Maison de Broderie et de Brocart de Fez at 2 bis Berb Blida sells hand-embroidered articles, especially table cloths and napkins.
• Khayar Driss at 30 Souiket Dehbane. Intricate work in bronze.
• L’Art du Bronze at 35 Tala’a Seghira is a quite famous, and expensive, shop specialising in bronze light fixtures and other articles.
• Artisanat Mamouni has four shops in the Seffarine Square metal workers’ souk offering a wide range of goods in bronze and copper.
• Maison de l’Artisanat at 2 Sba’a Louyat near the Karaouine is a great place to watch metal workers on the job and to buy their products.
• L’Art Traditionnel at 8 Boutouil near the Karaouine is known for its cedar wood furniture, including doors, chests and cupboards.
• Poterie de Fez at 32 Ain Noukbi, tel. 05 35 76 16 29. If you’re after good ceramics and not in the mood for bargaining head here. Prices are fixed and credit cards are accepted.
• Touhafs-Fès in the Quartier des Potiers near Bab Ftouh is another large pottery workshop/shop where you can watch everything from dishes to tables being made and buy the results.
• Galerie Jamil des Beaux Arts, near Seffarine Square, focuses on the work of local artists.
• Univers des Herbes, 2 bis Swikat Dahban, next to Sidi Ahmed Tijani mosque, stocks spices, herbs, natural perfumes and dyes and ancient remedies.