If you enjoyed seeing the Marrakech medina — that dizzy meld of colorful goods in tiny shops — then you’ll love passing through the giant plaza to get there. But caution: you’ll stop and stare. A lot.
The name, Jemaa el-Fnaa (sometimes spelled Djemma el F’na) means “assembly of the dead,” since it’s been the site of public executions since 1050. In all the world, Jemaa el-Fnaa could be one of the most memorable public squares you’ll ever see.
During the day, it’s a market place where hawkers of all things Moroccan set out hand carved camels, rugs, and pottery.
Carts filled with produce file past you, making deliveries or selling to customers right on the spot.
But come 5:00 or so in the evening, and Jemaa el-Fnaa starts puts on its party hat. Vendors open up big green tents showing off rows and rows of colorful fruit and trinkets tourists love.
And sellers of live snails offer you a to-go cup so you can steam ’em at home.
Need a bigger meal? Men in green tented stalls fire up the grills offering cooked meats with sides of couscous, tagine vegetables, and olives, of course.
The real party, though, is center stage where monkey handlers beckon you to come in closer. Not to worry. A few dirhams is all it takes for a photo as close – or as far away – as you care to be.
Snake handlers lay out their best cobras and patterned slitherers sure to elicit an “ooh, ah,” or more likely “I’m not coming any closer” from the crowd.
In the background, the thumping vibe of African drums and metal clappers draws you closer to red robed dancers who invite you (most persuasively) to line up and stomp to the beat. So we did. Here’s Chef Joanne Weir who brought our group from Culinary Journey in Morocco 2018 to the plaza. And then, like the good sport she is, started movin’ and groovin’ Marrakech style.
On our second visit to Jemaa el-Fnaa, we found an even better place to see this aggregate of sights and sounds: up top at a restaurant balcony. For the price of an orange soda, we nabbed premium seats for the unfettered chaos below.
If you’re squeamish in crowds, sit this one out. Go sip hot tea in a posh, beautifully tiled restaurant. But if you’re looking for sensory overload from hard-driving music, the whoosh of undirected vehicles, foreign foods in outrageous stalls, and people moving willy nilly in and among and around, you have to take in Jemaa el-Fnaa. Only in Marrakech.
For more information:
Follow us in Morocco by clicking onto Travel Series: Marvelous Morocco.
And to see pictures, head to our Flickr account, Marrakesh album.