Souk

"Suq" redirects here. For the city in Iran, see Suq, Iran.


A souq or souk (Arabic: سوق‎, Hebrew: שוקsūq, also spelled shuk, shooq, soq, souk, esouk, suk, sooq, souq, or suq) is an open-air marketplace or commercial quarter in Middle Eastern and North African cities. The equivalent Farsi term is "bazaar".

Etymology

The spelling souk entered European languages through French, probably during the French occupation of the Berber countries Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in the 19th or 20th centuries. Thus, the word "souk" most likely refers to Berber/North African traditional markets. Other spellings of this word that involve the letter "Q" (sooq, souq...) are most likely developed using English and thus refer to Middle Eastern/Arab traditional markets, as British colonialism was present there during the 19th and 20th centuries.


In Modern Standard Arabic the term al-sooq refers to markets in both the physical sense and the abstract economic sense (e.g., an Arabic-speaker would speak of the sooq in the old city as well as the sooq for oil, and would call the concept of the free market السوق الحرّ as-sūq al-ḥurr).

As in markets generally, prices are commonly set by bargaining between buyers and sellers.

The term is often used to designate the market in any Middle Eastern city, but may also be used in Western cities, particularly those with a Muslim community.

History

A souq was originally an open-air marketplace. Historically, souqs were held outside cities at locations where incoming caravans would stop and merchants would display their goods for sale. Souqs took place whenever a caravan or caravans had arrived. This could be infrequent, and souqs might extend beyond being markets to buy and sell goods, into major festivals involving many cultural and social activities. Any souq might have a social function, in terms of being a place to meet, in addition to its commercial function.

Later, due to the importance of the marketplace and the growth of cities, the locations of souqs shifted to urban centers.

In tribal areas, neutrality from tribal conflicts would be declared for the period of operation of a souk, to permit the exchange of surplus goods.

Types of souq

Seasonal souqs

A seasonal souq is held at a set time, which might be yearly, monthly or weekly. The oldest souqs were held annually, and were typically general festivals which were held outside cities. For example, Souq Ukadh used to be held in pre-Islamic times in an area between Mecca and Ta’if during the month of Dhu al-Qi'dah every year. While it was a busy market, it was more famous for poetry competitions, judged by prominent poets such as Al-Khansa and Al-Nabigha. An example of an Islamic annual souq is Al Mirbid just outside Basra which is also famed for its poetry competitions in addition to its storytelling activities.

Changes in political, economic and social styles have left only the small seasonal souqs outside villages and small towns, selling livestock and agricultural products.

Weekly markets have continued to function throughout the Arab world. Most of them are named from the day of the week when they were held. They usually have open spaces specifically designated for them inside cities. Examples of surviving markets are the Wednesday Market in Amman that specializes in the sale of used products, the Ghazl market held every Friday in Baghdad that specializes in pets; and the Fina’ Market in Marrakech that offers performances such as singing, music, acrobats and circus activities.

Permanent souqs

These are more common but less famous as they focus on commercial activity, not entertainment. Until the Umayyad era, permanent souqs were merely an open space where merchants would bring in their movable stalls during the day and remove them at night; no one had a right to specific pitch and it was usually first-come first-served. During the Umayyad era the governments started leasing, and then selling, sites to merchants. Merchants then built shops on their sites to store their goods at night. Finally, the area comprising a souq might be roofed over.

Organisation


Souqs are traditionally divided into specialized sections dealing in specific types of product, in the case of permanent souqs each usually housed in a few narrow streets and named after the product it specializes in such as the gold souq, the fabric souq, the spice souq, the leather souq, the copy souq (for books), etc. This promotes competition among sellers and helps buyers easily compare prices.

At the same time the whole assembly is collectively called a souq. Some of the prominent examples are Souq Al-Melh in Sana'a, Manama Souq in Bahrain, Bizouriyya Souq in Damascus, Saray Souq in Baghdad, Khan Al-Zeit in Jerusalem, and Zanqat Al-Niswaan in Alexandria.

Though each neighbourhood within the city would have a local Souq selling food and other essentials, the main souq was one of the central structures of a large city, selling durable goods, luxuries and providing services such as money exchange.

Workshops where goods for sale are produced (in the case of a merchant selling locally-made products) are typically located away from the souq itself.

The souq was a level of municipal administration. The Muhtasib was responsible for supervising business practices and collecting taxes for a given souq while the Arif are the overseers for a specific trade.

See also

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