The sights of Djemaa el-Fna

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MichaelJM on November 21, 2004

Djemaa el-Fna (the square of the dead) is a huge square in the centre of Marraech. When we first arrived, it seemed no more than a convenient place to park the bus, but on our return, as the heat of the sun was diminishing, it took on it raison d’être. To begin with, we spotted the local dentist (not that I’d fancy requesting his services) with the pride of his implements spread in front of him and a virtual toothless grin at the passerby (perhaps he pulled his own teeth out!). The food stalls were beginning to prepare their gourmet offerings of tasty-looking tajines, barbequed kebabs, and some dishes we couldn’t begin to recognise. Some of the smells wafting from the square were enticing, but we would be eating later.

And then, as if by magic, as the sun began to set, the square began to fill. We saw groups forming around local storytellers. Unfortunately, we could not understand the tales, but the crowds stood transfixed as the performers spoke with feeling and intensity. One teller held a chameleon for added interest.

Snake charmers dragged writhing reptiles out of baskets and began their performances, rapidly sending assistants to prey on any pausing tourist. The colourfully dressed water carriers did seem to have a dual role; first to provide drinkable water to anyone who would pay, and second, to pose, for a few dirham for holiday snaps, but they weren’t the only photogenic individuals on the square! There were guys leading monkeys on chains who would happily let them sit on your shoulders for a payment or intimidate you with them if you resisted the photo call. Snakes were draped round your shoulder and I heard more cries of, "Hey my friend, are you from . . . ?" than I could count.

There were singers (or should I say wailers!), dancers, and a troupe of acrobats performing happily for a few centimes. Belly dancers seemed at home as they waddled around the square; the temporary henna tattooists were out in force, as were the fortune-tellers and the small market traders offering cheap trinkets or second hand English novels.

On top of the intense food smells, the noise level was intense. There were musicians by the score, and they competed with the cries of the traders and the excitement of the growing number of tourists.

After a time, we adjourned for a coffee on the nearby rooftop restaurant. We managed to get a seat overlooking the square, where the whole atmosphere of Djemaa el-Fna could be realised. We could virtually see food being cooked as the smoke from the griddles filled the square. There was hardly a trestle table unoccupied as the food stalls business thrived and the whole of the floor space was rammed with people.

This is truly an experience that all your senses can savour, and it really is hard to express in words the excitement that you will feel in the "square of the dead."

Djemaa el Fna/Jamma el-Fnaa
Medina Quarter
Marrakesh, Morocco

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