MARRAKECH: The Jemaa el fna

The Jemaa el fna - Marrakech
The Jemaa el fna - Marrakech

The Jemaa el-Fnaa or Djemaa el Fna, is undoubtedly one of the most famous market squares Africa and is the centre of activity and trade for the city of Marrakesh, Morocco. The name roughly means 'the assembly of trespassers' and has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.

Historically this square was used for public executions and decapitations by the rulers to maintain their power by frightening the people.

The Jemaa el fna - Marrakech
Moroccan Fez danser
Jemaa el-Fnaa was renovated along with much of the Marrakech city, whose walls were extended by Abu Yaqub Yusuf and particularly by Yaqub al-Mansur in 1147-1158.

The surrounding mosque, palace, hospital, parade ground and gardens around the edges of the marketplace were also overhauled, and the Kasbah was fortified. Subsequently, with the fortunes of the city, Jemaa el-Fnaa saw periods of decline and also renewal.

The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here and stalls were set up on the square from early in its history.

The square also attracted tradesmen in foods, animal forage and domestic items, snake charmers, Berber women in long robes, camels and donkeys, dancing boys of the Chleuh Atlas tribe, and shrieking musicians with pipes, tambourines and African drums.

The Jemaa el fna - Marrakech
Me with one of the many snake charmers
Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Be aware though that the Jemaa el-Fnaa also attracts pick pockets!

Walking around during the day and you will come across a heady mix of snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, and dentists.

At night, the whole atmosphere changes with the opening of the food stalls and additional entertainment from fire eaters.

If, like me, you are obviously north European - tall, fair skinned and extremely attractive - you are going to be a very easy target for the wandering vendor. With that in mind I have some suggestions for you.

The Jemaa el fna - Marrakech
1. I suggest that you don't give money to beggar children as it will just proliferate the numbers of beggar children.

2. Don't let strange woman hold your hand as they will immediately try drawing a henna pattern on it, refuse to let go, and then demand a ridiculous price for the privilege.

3. Don't give your camera to a local who says he will take a photo of you because he will want paying for it and won't give you back your camera until you do.

4. Haggle for everything, and if an item you are looking at is '..part of my personal collection..' or '..that one is an antique..'  then you know that you are about to be ripped off.

5. Keep your eyes peeled, not just for pickpockets, but for cyclists, pony and carts, and mental's on mopeds. Ignore them and you will get run over.

6. You are responsible for your own health and safety. In the week that was there, I saw one shop catch fire, one food stall catch fire, and part of the roof structure caved in during a rainstorm just 20 yards away from me. Don't get me started on the holes in the pavements!

The artist Richard Hamilton once said that about the Jemaa el-Fnaa:

 '...reeked of Berber particularism, of backward-looking, ill-educated countrymen, rather than the reformist, pan-Arab internationalism and command economy that were the imagined future...'

I don't know what he's going on about either.

For related articles click onto:
ELCHE GARDENS - The Huerto del Cura
MARRAKESH: The Jemaa el fna

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