I gave you a sneak peek into our trip to Morocco with that photo of the stunning sunset. Instead of writing a diary like day by day account of the trip, I’ve decided to write posts about specific areas or activities the first of which is a post the old city’s main square: Jemaa el Fna.
Jemaa el Fna – Pulsating heart of Marrakesh
Asking people for opinions about places can be very tricky as each person’s taste can vary massively depending on their habits, lifestyle and previous travel experiences. This is why I was very wary about taking what most travelers had told me about Jemaa el Fna, Marrakesh’s medina(old city) central square, seriously… The expressions “Over touristy”, “Aggravating”, “Too many people” come up more than once, however the mostly dependable describe as a must see. Who do you trust? No one; Go and see it for yourself is what I say and that’s exactly what I did.
Before even heading to the square, the signs were ominous. We picked up one of the used guidebooks in the courtyard of the riad we were staying at and the previous owner had scribbled comments next to some the sights and next to Jemma el Fna the previous owner scribbled “That massive f*cking heaving hole”. I quickly flicked through the rest of the guide to see whether its previous owner enjoyed using superlatives. Nope. The only superlative was used to describe the square. “Brilliant!” I thought…
Our experience of the square was in the middle of day. Honestly there was not much to write (blog) home about. A couple of snake charmers who casually played their flutes calling their snakes from their slumber; The odd henna artist looking for the next victim arm to scribble on; Some ‘performers’ who merely went round playing castelatas and spinning the tassel on his fez; Orange juice sellers trying to convince passing tourists that their “jus, the best!”. Despite this, I never got the felling the square was bursting with life.
However at night, all proverbial hell broke loose in and around the square. The square is surrounded by a moped, car and bicycle force field protecting it’s heart from the rush of foreign tourist and local alike. Once you penetrate this protective layer, your senses are on overload. Hawkers are flicking fluorescent boomerang like toys in the air, while you are trying to avoid the snake charmers and henna artists. Music is ringing all around as many makeshift performances are taking place while men in burkas are playing out scenes of plays.
As you are trying to find your bearings choruses of “Senhor! Senhor!” are ringing out from everywhere as the food stalls employees are trying to convince you that their food is the best! At any time you can be surrounded by at least three multilingual matre’d’s while vying for your attention and making you feel as if you are the most important person in the world, that is until they snag your custom and move on the next victim.
The square is “heaving” as our borrowed guidebook stated, however there is no way we would describe as a hole. There is an unbelievable energy the place and at times it can be completely overwhelming but I would be more inclined to call it a fun experience than a hole. It became our nightly ritual to head to the Jemaa el Fna for dinner at stall no 25 (Raquel’s lucky number) where a great meal of prawns, kalamari, kofte (meatballs), meat skewers, bread, sauces, salads and drinks all for the small price of 20 Euros (not each, for both of us).
We would follow our dinner with a walk around the square while night owl salesmen called out “Alibaba” as I walked past their stalls tempting me to buy their wares. I can imagine the square can be quite intimidating if you’re a woman travelling on your own, however, Raquel and I utterly enjoyed the frenzied atmosphere of the square (and especially stall number 25).