Red-brown buildings overlook this chaotic nerve centre, grand, dishevelled pavilions filling with diners lunching on couscous and tagines.

Wending back from the square are the souks – the market maze where vibrant disorder reigns.

Donkeys idle on the kerbs, like drivers waiting for a fare.

Dusty avenues are overrun with cats, snoozing in matted, furry piles on every step. An old man passes by, bent double, dragging a cart piled 2m high with broken cardboard boxes.

Men sitting on milk crates outside shops, bulging with bright rugs, flag me down. “You look – you look”, they say, pointing from their eyes to their stores. I’m an obvious tourist.

Eventually, I wander into a larger souk – a three-storey stack of wheeling, dealing and wink-wink commerce, its axis a spectacular, mosaic spiral staircase. A young grifter who works in the souk sizes me up and closes in.

“I need some shoes, and a bag,” I offer. My new friend, Amine, holds up a single finger; a light bulb gone off.

“Follow, follow,” he says, and leads me out of his souk, round countless corners and cobbled paths, until we come to a small doorway, which he pushes open.

We step into a cavernous souk three times the size of any I have seen before. The concrete floor is cool, and the air smells of mint tea – otherwise known as Berber whiskey. Amine waves an older man over. Mohammed.

“You are Australian,” Mohammed says – it’s not a question – when I tell him what I’m looking for. “Like Mark Viduka.”

To the shoes. Mohammed gestures to the wooden shelves that run the length of the store, lined with soft slippers of different colours.

“These are the Berber Adidas,” Mohammed says, “perfect for travelling, very comfortable.”

I like the look of the snazzy blue ones.

“No, not blue,” Mohammed declares, with a mixture of concern and contempt. “Blue is for ladies. You want these,” he says, pointing to his own mustard-coloured slippers. “This is the best colour.”

Mohammed’s conviction sways me. I’m sold.

I haggle insipidly for a few minutes, but end up buying a leather backpack too.

On our way back, Amine leads me into what looks like a doctor’s waiting room. A small man dressed in a white robe meets us – Mustafa.

“This a herbal house – like a friendship-based pharmacy,” Mustafa says.

He sets out an array of ointments, and launches into a practised spiel about their applications.

“This cream,” he says, holding up an orange tub, “you can use it as aftershave and it keeps mosquitoes away. You can also use it to treat herpes.” Impressed, I buy two tubs.

Back at the square, I pay Amine a small fee for being my guide. We part, and I head off with my purchases wrapped in blue bags.

Later I learn that blue bags are reserved for customers who’ve shown themselves to be poor negotiators, identifying them as easy marks.

» Tom Sturrock travelled with On The Go Tours (020 7371 1113) on the 11-day Marrakesh Sahara & Surf tour which departs all year-round. Eight-day tours to Morocco start at £319


Worth a look 

Star attractions

The Bahia Palace should be top of your list. El Badi Palace and the Majorelle Gardens are also spectacular.

Dining at the Square

Grab a bench at one of the restaurants in Djemaa el Fna in the evening.

Feeling dirty?

Go for a hammam steam bath. They’re all over the city, and cost around 20 MAD.

do some learning

Head to the Marrakesh Musuem, home to traditional and modern exhibits.