A Fondouk or Funduq also known as a Caravanserai is a mediaeval building designed as an urban hostel for commercial travellers and merchants- the Marrakshi equivalent of the coaching inn – a camel motel! Set around a generous central courtyard a typical Fondouk has a series of chambers on the ground floor traditionally used to accommodate beasts of burden with a corresponding series of lockable chamber on the first floor which doubled as storage for merchandise and sleeping quarters. Fondouks were equipped with fountains to water animals and scales to weigh the goods traded there. Often they were lavishly decorated and many specialised in attracting merchants from a particular background for example Jews, Christians or sub Saharan Africans.
There is concentration Fondouks just north of the El Baroudiyine district of Marrakech where travellers would have had easy access to trade with the Souks occupying the area to the north of Jema al Fna.
Many Fondouks fell into a sad state of disrepair after the age of the great camel caravans but most are still standing. These substantial buildings were adapted to use as workshops or subdivided into homes and all manner of living and working spaces.
In Marrakesh today there are many poorly maintained decaying Fondouks offering a glimpse of an ancient trading culture. It is encouraging to see an increasing number sympathetically restored, often with public money, finding a new lease of life as workshops or showrooms for traditional Moroccan crafts. One of Marrakech leading restaurants ‘Le Fondouk’ is occupies a beautifully adapted caravanserai just to the east of the Marrakech museum.