Tuesday 6 April 2010

A Tale of Marrakech, Djemaa el Fna

Google ‘places to see in Marrakech’ and you’ll immediately find Morocco’s most famous square the Djemaa el Fna on top of the list. It is the beating heart of the town. From dawn until many hours after dusk you’ll find entertainment for the senses. It is the most cunning seductress of Marrakech, reaching out to you with new surprises each time, over and over, again and again and remember, nothing really is for free. All you see, smell, hear and feel in this small circus of life has a price. The seduced visitor will almost certainly reward three times its worth for the entertainment and if not with money the unfriendly or even angry glances of the entertainers will make you compensate with the uncomfortable sensation of annoyance, guilt or even shame.

During daytime there are the colourful orange juice stalls decorating part of the square. The snake charmers invite the visitor’s with their haunting flutes, a sound so typical of the square that it will doubtlessly always remind you of the Djemaa el Fna. As much as I wish to disregard the men with the chained Barbary apes my daughter always pulls me towards them for a closer look. As soon as a weakness or slight conflict is detected by the entertainers you’re rapidly and unwillingly lured into photo poses with the unfortunate apes. Veiled ladies call out to visitors with their little photo portfolios of henna painting designs and last but not least it is impossible to miss the water sellers in their colourful costumes with the leather water bags and brass cups.

Around 4.30 pm the spirit of the square changes with the arrival of numerous carts being pulled unto the Djemaa el Fna. The carts are quick and efficiently unpacked and small restaurants unfold within minutes, blurring the square behind a screen of thick smoke. It takes a strong will or at least a full stomach to resist the tempting smells of spices, grilled meat or simmering stews. The variety of dishes is endless and the food is cheap, served with loud and comic entertainment by the stall workers. Each stall has its own number displayed on a sign attached to the stall making it easy to find your favourite place to eat along the many small lanes of smoking food stalls.

The Djemaa el Fna is not only a popular tourist attraction. Many locals visit the square for a stroll and entertainment. Traditional medicine men sell their remedies and the dancing boys, musicians and story tellers attract vast crowds while the fortune tellers sooth or amuse clients with their cards or beads.

A day on the Djemaa el Fna in summer ends past midnight. The food stall’s disappear back into the carts, the entertainers leave after a last money collection from the remaining crowd and when the lasts visitors disappear into the night the curtain of the Djemaa el Fna stage finally falls.