Djemaa el Fna - Smelly, dusty, noisy and crowded.

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Slug on September 30, 2012

The Djemaa el Fna might be the Main Square and focal point of Marrakech but I personally find the place a difficult site to love.

The square is at the gateway to the old Medina and Souk (area) of Marrakech and at the other end stands the beautifully constructed Koutoubia Mosque dating from the late 1100s and inspiration to many later architects in both Spain and Morocco.

Unfortunately the overriding sensation I get when visiting the square is the strong smell of urine. I'm not sure if it comes from some of the visitors or perhaps the horses standing around waiting for tourist fares for the carriages they lug around the city, but the thought of dried specks of urine drifting around the square doesn't exactly attract.

The square was originally used for public hangings until the early 1800s and when these were banned, the local residents needed something new to entertain themselves with. Today, all manner of "entertainment" is provided, although again, much of it doesn't do much for me.

In the day time, the main "attractions" of the square must be the 40 or so orange juice stalls; a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice can be had for 4 of the local currency (around 30p), or more exotic juice like grapefruit can be had for 10. It must be scant reward for the poor vendors spending all day stood at that hot, dusty and noisy square.

Also around in the day time are women offering intricate henna tattoos for hand, arm, foot or leg. The hat sellers are particularly persistent, and you will also find scarf, sunglass and bangle sellers following you around unless you give them a firm but polite refusal.

The other thing I dislike about the square is that some vendors rely on animals to turn a buck or two. As well as the horses sweating it out in the square, snake charmers will play their flutes and encourage their snakes (with hand sewn up mouths allowing just a little gap for the tongue to emerge) to come out of a jar. If you are immune to the cruelty you can pay for a photo or to hold the snake if you wish. There are also chained and sorry looking dancing monkeys for your pleasure and entertainment.

When I visited the square for the first time a decade ago, it was coated in thick tar which melted, leaving a half inch high tide mark on my treasured converse trainers. At least that ignominy was spared me as it has been repaved in more practical concrete tiling.

At night, the square becomes a massive food hall, with a large number of individual food stalls available for you to chow down with thousands of others. I'm told the food is cheap and fresh, but must confess have never dined here. Also in the square at night are the entertainers such as fire jugglers and dancing boys. Each group is quickly surrounded by enthusiastic onlookers, although most of the shows I've seen have been a little too 1970s TV talent show for my taste. Obviously, the square is a haven for the odd pick pocket, so be careful if you do find a display that attracts and distracts you.

Given the bustle and noise in the square one way I do quite like watching the activity is to have a drink or meal at one of the restaurants that face onto the square. Most, if not all of these establishments do not serve alcohol, so anticipate sipping on orange juice, Fanta or coke. My tip is to sit upstairs to avoid any disturbance from street vendors (unless of course you are in the market for a fake watch, sun hat, glasses or such like).
Djemaa el Fna/Jamma el-Fnaa
Medina Quarter
Marrakesh, Morocco

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