I have never seen a market like the unbelievable Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh, Morocco. It’s like a wild, beating historical heart of the city and perhaps the soul of Morocco.
Imagine a vast and buzzling square filled to the brim with people looking at sneaky snake charmers, wonderful musicians, skilled magicians, daring acrobats and youths showing of chained apes. Then there are food stalls, true story tellers that came down from the mountains, street vendors selling junk, henna tattoo artist and pickpockets roaming the place in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game with the secret police.
On one side is a Mosque with a grand minaret without equal, on another side a great, labyrinthic bazaar where you could get just about anything.
Jemaa el-Fna is a crazy spectacle and an incredible drama that starts all-over again every day. In the morning is the calm before the storm when juice vendors and water sellers walk around. Later comes the snake charmers with their unmistakable pipes, the souvenir vendors, fortune tellers, acrobats and dance troupes. When the food stalls open at dusk there is an immense boost of smoke rising from the square and at sunset the wild show is on with musicians, cross-dressing belly dancers and professional story-tellers with crowds of listeners.
Jemaa el-Fna has probably been there since Marrakesh was founded in the 11th century. It’s the heart of the Medina, the old town, and a UNESCO world heritage.
What the name means is uncertain. It could mean “the gathering/congregation area” or, according to some, “The Mosque at the End of the World”. It’s public life at its most condensed and the world starts and ends at this market every day. It’s world heritage as a “masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” and it will take your breath away for sure.