Morocco’s cats: aiding navigation in Marrakech

Sweeping generalization about Morocco: cats have the run of the place.

They wander freely in and out of the souks, restaurants, even the airport.* And they aren’t treated as nuisances. In fact, I got the impression they are technically strays, but they are communally-owned and appreciated by everyone.

Exhibit A: this gang in Essaouira hanging out by a butcher. They crawled over everything, and the butcher acquiesced by tossing scraps to them, as a crowd of humans assembled around them and cheered loudly every time one of the cats caught something in a spectacular way.

Essaouira Morocco cats

Fast forward to Marrakech. My crew spent a lot of time in the souks and were particularly fond of our time in the leather souks, where I acquired some leather bracelets which are now among my favourite travel memories.

The true story is that we made two trips for leather bracelets. On our first trip, we got to know the leather worker and his salesman, as well as the local leather souk cat, whose name was something in Arabic like “Siamese cat” because of his Siamese cat-like eyes. He was lovely and friendly, but had a rather gnarly wound on his head. Everyone knew him, he’d wander from shop to shop, and most everyone chatted to him or rubbed his head.

Marrakech Morocco leather souks cat

Following the universal rule of “don’t touch the animals,” we bade the leather souk cat farewell, unlikely to see him again.

Until the next day. One of my friends decided we should try and find our leatherworker friend again and buy some more bracelets. The labyrinthine souks of Marrakech are pretty much the opposite of street planning, and we weren’t entirely sure where we were any at point. Eventually, we found leather shop after leather shop and knew we were getting warm.

Then, one of my friends had a brilliant idea. She dug out her camera and found the pictures from our previous day’s adventure, asking around until someone easily identified our leatherworker and souk cat. He gestured out some directions, we called out our thanks (in French and Moroccan Arabic – not relevant, just bragging), and continued on our way.

Then, we saw him. The four of us shouted four different manglings of his name in unison:

“Chiswella!” “Shinwelia!” “Chisweelia” “Shinswella!”

Whatever his name, he was our leather souk cat from the previous day. He was also our clue that we were almost there. Sure enough, we turned the corner and found our leather shop. Tired from his five solid minutes of work, he hopped up on a chair, and promptly fell asleep.

Marrakech Morocco leather souk cats

*The airport thing is not a joke. The cats wandered so freely in and out of the secure areas, we figured they had some kind of official responsibility.

Casablanca Morocco airport cat
Casablanca Morocco airport cats



  1. That sucks for people with cat allergies! Luckily I’m not one of them – I’d love it. Here kitty kitty kitty!


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