Although lacking the vast array of medina shops or foundouks found in Marrakech and Fes, Essaouira's medina offers a terrific, small range of shopping experiences. Given the ease of navigation through the compact medina and a general lack of hassle from shopkeepers, some travelers prefer shopping here than in the bigger centers.
Just inside the Bab Marrakech entrance to the medina is the Ensemble Artisinal. Although rather tired looking and run-down, most of the workshops are still practicing their respective trades and are very much open for business. You'll find craftsmen here skilled in woodwork (parquetry), metalwork (lantern making), and jewelry making, including bijouteries Mogador Dag Souiri (tel. 0524/783705) and Bizbiz (tel. 0670/611967). A chunky silver ring currently sells for a hassle-free 400dh.
For those looking for groceries and alcohol, there are a few fresh produce stalls along avenue Zerktouni and a couple of small grocery shops at the southern end of avenue l'Istiqlal. There's a small supermarket outside the medina, Superette la Plage, off boulevard Mohammed V, on rue al Amira Lalla Amina, open daily from 9am to 9pm. Just outside Bab Doukala, on avenue Moulay Youssef, are a couple of shops selling alcohol, open Saturday to Thursday from 9am to 9pm.
A number of art galleries displaying local and internationally recognized artists can be found close together within the medina. The most well known is Galeries Damgaard, on avenue Oqba ibn Nafiaa (tel. 0524/784446). Danish art dealer Frederic Damgaard first visited Essaouira as an art student in 1969, returning frequently to collect works by local artists and eventually opening the gallery on the ground floor of a stone mansion in 1988. It's open daily from 10am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm. Nearby is the recently renovated Espace Othello, 9 rue Mohammed Layachi (tel. 0524/475095), owned by Belgian Mochel de Saint-Maux. La Petite Galerie, under the archway at the beginning of rue ibn Rochd coming off place Moulay Hassan (tel. 0665/660630; fax 0524/476431; www.artmajeur.com/soulaiman), is the showroom of local artist Slimane Drissi. His style of abstract humanism is both compelling and uplifting. Framed prints are on sale for 500dh to 3,000dh. Drissi's gallery is open daily from 9am to 9pm.
Beauty & Fashion
Argan oil and its associated beauty products are sold from shops throughout the medina. Products made specifically from Co-opérative Tamounte, under the product name Arganad, are for sale at Chez Boujmah, on the corner of avenue Allal ben Abdellah and rue el Hajjali. It's open daily from 6:30am to 11pm (later in summer). Arga d'Or, 5 rue ibn Rochd (tel. 0661/601471 or 0661/109287), is a dedicated argan shop with assistants on hand to display the various creams, soaps, and other beauty products, as well as selling cooking oil, argan honey, and the sweet amlou paste. It's open daily from 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 8pm.
Raffia Craft, 82 rue d'Agadir (tel. 0524/783632; fax 0524/474892), is the small outlet shop for local raffia fashion designer Miro. Most of his woven shoes and sandals are sold directly to European outlets, but there's still a quality selection of both men's and women's footwear to be found in this compact shop, open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm, and Sunday from 10am to 1pm. French fashion designer Litza Chemla's popular range of funky handbags and fashion accessories, Poupa Litza, is now available from her cavernous boutique at 135 bis av. Mohamed el Qouri (tel. 0524/783565; www.poupalitza.com), open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 7pm.
In the far left corner of the small Le Joutia souk is shop no. 160, the only carpet shop within this souk and owned by Abdellatif al Koujdaih and his father for the past 40 years. In what must be the smallest shop in Morocco, Abdellatif has carpets stacked up to the walls. Most of the carpets are antique, or "preloved," as Abdellatif puts it, and are of Berber design. He also has a small selection of traditional marriage belts and other antiques, such as wood boxes specifically designed for holding mint tea glasses. He's open daily from 10am to 1pm and 3pm to "sundown."
Within the Souk des Bijoutiers , shop no. 2 is owned by Hamid El Asri (tel. 0668/515217) and his two sons, Abdallah and Saïd, who produce some beautiful and original silver jewelry. Having learned the trade from their father, the two brothers are now letting their creativity flow, creating necklaces and pendants in designs influenced by such things as the stars and planets, combined with symbols of Arabic and Berber origin. Their prices are very reasonable, and have the customer, rather than the guides' commission, in mind. The shop is open daily from 10am to 10pm.
Along rue Lattarine you'll find a string of shops selling leather goods, such as bags, briefcases, poufes (foot cushions), and sandals. About halfway along this street, next to Hotel Souiri, is Mohammed Schumacher, who, as his name suggests, is a shoemaker. Mohammed's little shop is where he makes a range of footwear, mostly sandals, by hand; if there's none that fit, give him a day or so, and he'll make a pair to order. He's open daily from 9am to 7pm, but closes for Friday midday prayers.
The home of the Gnaoua & World Music Festival has surprisingly few music shops. One of the best is Azza Lafnak d'Essaouira, Youssef Boumald's little musical treasure house at the base of the clock tower, on avenue Oqba ibn Nafiaa. He sells a wide range of Arabic, jazz, and world music, as well as CDs of past festivals. Daily hours are from 9:30am to 9:30pm. Mustapha Lacheb operates a similar shop, on avenue l'Istiqlal, close to the Wafa bank. Local Rasta-man Zak Zakaria's Happy Shop, on the corner of rue ibn Rochd and rue Mohammed Diouri (tel. 0677/325755), is full of percussion instruments from all over the world, including West African djembe drums, Australian didgeridoos, and Arabic darbuka drums. He'll also provide lessons. Happy Shop is open daily from 9am to 5pm. The tiny Trance Music shop, 3 rue Oujda, just off avenue Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah (tel. 0663/815789), is where you'll often find travelers sharing a mint tea with happy-go-lucky Belcaid Abdel, who's only too happy to let visitors try the mélange of musical instruments hanging from the walls and ceiling. He's also got a good selection of CDs featuring mostly Moroccan artists. He's usually open daily from 9am to 9pm.
For the past 30 years, Mohammed Oulad el Hajja has been selling the finest hand-woven fabrics from his small shop, Tissage Artisinal, 15 rue Oudja (tel. 0665/209297). Throw-overs, scarves, tablecloths, curtains, and yards of cloth -- in wool, chenille cotton, and vegetable silk -- come in all the colors of the rainbow. During weekdays, there are usually some local women at work on the loom within his shop. Credit cards are accepted. Hours are Monday to Saturday 9am to 9pm.
Dotted throughout the medina you'll find shops selling jewelry boxes, tables, and various objets d'art made from the aromatic thuya, a short, scrublike conifer found only in northwest Africa, with small and endangered populations in Malta and southern Spain. The thuya tree produces a golden brown-red hardwood that is highly figured with small clusters of tight burls and can be polished to a fine luster. The craftsmen turn the wood into all manner of pieces, the more popular of which are chess boards, jewelry boxes, letter holders, book ends, and salad bowls. Some pieces also combine fine examples of marquetry. In recent years, however, the tree has come under pressure in Morocco from illegal logging, purely for the making of the products mentioned above. The thuya workshops that used to abound within Essaouira's medina are all but gone now, and one presumes that the craft will slowly disappear as the commodity becomes even scarcer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.