The Magical Experience Jemaa El-Fna
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
The magical atmosphere of Jemma El-Fna at sunset
Nothing brings the Marrakech experience to life more than watching the square of Jemaa El-Fna. Jemaa El-Fna means ‘assembly of the dead’ probably because this was the site of public executions in the past – but today this place is far from anything that is lifeless! It is in fact the heartbeat of Marrakech – transforming from an old square to nothing short of a theatrical spectacle! No wonder that UNESCO recognized it as ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ in 2001.
Snake charmers of Jamma El-Fna
There isn't much going on in the morning compared to the evening, but to the first time traveller it almost feels like time travel. Snake charmers show off their collection of slithering beings, getting close and even getting a kiss from them – though this is quite a debatable topic when it comes to animal welfare, and to a large extent a bit unsettling, it does transport you to a world when this was the norm.
The poisonous kiss!!
Then there are the extensively photographed water sellers of Morocco. Dressed in their traditional costumes they are called Gharrib and must have been important to the travellers of the desert region, selling water to thirsty people from their goat skin water bags. One thing to make note of before travelling to Morocco is that taking photographs isn't easy. People usually approach you for money if they find you taking their pictures, or you may get asked to take a picture of them and when you do, you are asked to pay for it! Well, though this is a bit weird at the start, if you want to enjoy your travel, you need to loosen up a bit, the water sellers for example are not needed anymore in this day and age, but they carry a piece of history and personally we do feel for these people who making their living this way. We pictured this guy and later discovered that he was also featured on a National Geographic magazine – we wonder if the guy was aware of how much of the world has seen him!!
Water sellers of Morocco
On the day we arrived at Marrakech we headed to Jamma El-Fna during late afternoon and found a seat with a view on the of the rooftop cafés in the square and decided to spend the evening seeing the drama unfold in front of our eyes while sipping the quintessential mint tea.
As the evening progresses, one can witness a gradual change in ambience. With the sun going down, the air starts to fill up with the smell of barbeques and Amazigh music. Stalls begin to crop out of nowhere and before you know the whole place is teeming with performers – musicians, snake charmers, henna tattoo artists and other sellers. As we sat with our mint tea, we were just awe struck at this real life ‘backstage’ drama which deserves as much admiration as the evening extravaganza.
Orange juice seller of Jamma El-Fan - fresh and cheap!
So, we cannot recommend enough, taking the time out to see the square transform – only then you appreciate the magic behind the magic!
As the sun went down, we left our balcony theatre seat to be part of the performance. The square is packed with locals and tourists and as you navigate through the chaos, you realize the amazing order behind this chaos. The stalls have numbers and almost every artist and seller has their own spot. Freshly squeezed orange juice to snail soup – the square is nothing less than a food carnival. This is Moroccan fast food at its best – fresh, fast, inexpensive and amazingly delicious. Breads with dips, kebabs, spicy sausages and other selections is enough reason to step out of your comfort zone and have an experience.
Smoke and aroma of food in the air at Jamma El-Fna makes the experience unforgettable
As we sampled food from one stall to another, we got drawn in into the energy of the place – it is best to ‘open up’, share a laugh and reciprocate the cheer from the locals. They indeed have their own sense of humour combined with loud salesmanship! We also realized how popular Indian cinema was in this part of the world as we were called out with names of leading stars much to our astonishment!
Food seller at Jamma El-Fna - quick and fresh Moroccan street food
But do remember not to carry any valuables and just have your wits around! Its travel common sense that you can use to stay safe but still enjoy the spirit of a place!
As we walked around the shops and sellers, one old chubby lady asked us to try some woolly hats. She handpicked one with a long tassel and lovingly placed it on our head – and gave that proud motherly look – when your child looks smart in a new piece of clothing! We didn’t need any hats, but we got this one and till when we wear it, we get reminded of that look in her eyes! Indeed people make experiences and experiences make people!