Jemaa el Fna is Morocco’s most famous square and attracts travellers from around the world. It is often referred to as the heart of Marrakech. In the evening, snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkeys, and musicians transform this city centre into something of a medieval circus.
Beneath the foothills of the Atlas Mountains lies Jemaa el Fna, a place where you can discover a world of mysterious bazaars set amidst the ancient city walls of Marrakech’s famous medina. Jemma el Fna is best described as a labyrinth of mazes, and there are souks sprawling off the sides of crowed alleys that sell carpets, spices, street food, as well as arts and crafts.
I have visited many of these souks and bazaars in the Middle-East, including the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Souk Jama in Amman, and Khan el-Khalili in Cairo, and while they all have their own striking identity, Jemaa el Fna was undoubtedly the most intriguing! I think places like this give a good cultural experience and are great ways to observe how regular men and women of the city interact with each other. Here in Marrakech, you won’t find many Moroccans using Jemaa el Fna as a tourist attraction – for them, this palaver is an unavoidable way of life!
During the daylight, Jemma el Fna is a shopping paradise for every Moroccan traveller, and a place where you can gain insight into Moroccan culture. The many alleyways can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, as each alley specialises in different products, such as spices, carpets, jewellery, furniture, or brass-work. As usual for these marketplaces, I saw many shisha pipes and Arabic-themed lanterns on display. I always wonder if these items are purchased by the locals or just there for tourists to look at?
Yet the fast pace of Jemaa el Fna was what made this marketplace a little different to its famous cousins in other cities/countries in the Middle-East. Stand still long enough and you may have someone wrap a snake around your shoulders! While some snake charmers merely look to make some extra pocket money, others are there to practice ancient rituals that have been passed down by their ancestors. This all seemed rather too dangerous for me so I kept at a safe distance. I’ve never liked snakes much, anyway…
If you are hungry, give your taste buds an authentic Moroccan experience and head to these food stalls grilling meat on braziers, smoking fish, and selling exotic Moroccan foods. If you want a quick treat you can try Morocco’s popular merguez sausages! If you are feeling especially brave, then why not try a sheep’s head? I am told this is one of Morocco’s most-loved delicacies. I guess when Koreans eat dogs, Emiratis eat camel, and the Vietnamese eat snake, then why not a sheep’s head? I guess we can’t accuse the people of Morocco of being uninventive! A lot of people seemed to wash down their sheep heads with a spicy nut-based aphrodisiac called Kendenjhal.
This mysterious place can be compared to a land of Arabic fantasy. With its wild and colourful characters, Jemaa el Fna bedazzled and astounded me. At night, the air fills with aromatic smoke fumes lingering off the delicious delicacies sold in the streets to the sound of traditional Moroccan music. The entire square is dark except for the gas lamps lighting up the food vendors cooking area and illuminating the towers of greasy smoke sailing over the square. Quickly, the square turns into one of the world’s busiest open air restaurants, as food is prepared hot and fresh along the lines of countless stalls. It is yet another feast of the senses!
Surrounding the square are numerous cafés where you can sit at a table and watch over the activities. Although Jemaa el Fna is an exhilarating experience, it can feel overwhelming after a bit, so these cafés are a good place to escape and enjoy some traditional mint tea!