Last Updated on February 28, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Every traveler should experience the Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh, Morocco
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
In Morocco, the Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh is the large public square whose name is sometimes translated as “the assembly of death,” a reference to public executions there nearly a thousand years ago. At that time the heads of the executed were put on spikes around the square, a not-too-subtle reminder to others to mind their ways.
Things are a bit more civil in the Jemaa el-Fna today, since the heads are now gone. Today people in the Jemaa el-Fna only lose their heads over the square’s near-claustrophobic daily gathering of snake charmers, peddlers of traditional medicines, Berber musicians, performers, henna tattoo artists, and more food stalls than you’ve seen anywhere.
Plan to go mid- or late afternoon to be able to walk about, perhaps have a bite to eat, and look at the performers and snake charmers and everything else before the crowds start filling the square right before sunset. It’s at this time that the noise and the action in the square reaches a crescendo.
It’s this assemblage – not the Jemaa el-Fna itself – that is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, declared a “Masterpiece of World Heritage” for its intangible cultural heritage. See for yourself.
Keep in mind, however, that everything you do in the Jemaa el-Fna – watching the feverish dancers, taking photos of the water sellers in their bright-red garb, or of the snake charmers with their cobras swaying to the music, etc. – will have a cost attached so have a few dirhams ready. And, of course, watch out for pickpockets.
The best place to view the Jemaa el-Fna and the entire evening spectacle, is from one of the tables on the upper-floor outdoor café of the Hôtel Restaurant Café de France on the eastern edge of the square. The price of the table is only a drink, even just a Coke, but it will get crowded as the evening nears. It’s best to go early in a small group, so some can hold the table while others go down below to wander about through the circus. Just don’t expect good food or service.