Djemaa el-Fna, the main square of Marrakesh, is the heart of the city. During the day snake charmers and henna-tattoo makers seek the attention of the passing by tourists. In the evening hours the square comes to life and transforms into the ultimate open-air entertainment with dancers, musicians, story tellers, and about 100+ busy food stalls cooking local cuisine. The place to be.
Djemaa el-Fna is, without doubt, heart of Marrakesh. Throbbing with life, full with people and gems of Moroccan culture. If you’d like to explore the square when it is less crowded, go there early in the morning, ideally before 9am. However, keep in mind that in the morning hours there are not vendors around and many of the shops might be closed. Make sure you appreciate the view from the empty street leading to the Koutoubia mosque which is usually full with pedestrians and rather careless moped drivers. As more tourists arrive, coaches fill up the side of the street, trying to persuade strollers to take a ride around the city.
As the day proceeds, you will see juice sellers open their stalls, selling the best orange juice you’ve ever had. Mind you, if you’re a bit sensitive to what you consume, it might upset your stomach a bit, as it did mine. Although I really can eat or drink pretty much anything and never had issues with trying local cuisine, while I was in Morocco I had the impression that my gut flora was raging war on me. But as soon as I got back to Europe it was all back to normal again. But before I digress from my point, let’s get back to the square.
As you walk around the square, you’ll most probably end up wandering into the Souks, the wonderful colourful and busy marketplace. There is absolutely nothing you can’t see or buy here. From leather shoes, through fashionable bags, radiant lamps, brass goods, scarves, tacky tunics sold only to tourists, cats (loads of them), carpets (oh, those beautiful supposedly hand-made, magical carpets), an endless selection of herbs, teas, spices, chameleons and turtles live and dried (like, seriously?), snake skins, hand-painted pottery, jewellery, teeth (I’m not joking, right… somebody was seriously selling pulled-out teeth, crowns, and prostheses), and pretty much anything you can think of. If you set your eyes on something, don’t jump into buying it immediately. Haggle. Be polite, but pay only as much as you deem appropriate. The seller will almost always tell you a price that is much higher than the value of the item. It will usually depend on how wealthy you look. So, for example, if you carry an expensive-looking camera, the prices sure will be high for you. I suggest, if you’re up for some shopping, make sure you leave anything that screams I-cost-a-lot-of-money in your Riad or tuck it away in your bag.
Most shopkeepers are very friendly, but obviously they also want to make a profit. If they’re not willing to sell at a reasonable price, don’t get angry, just walk away. This is what I did when haggling over a carpet the vendor wanted to sell at €150. A frequently repeated question in the Souks was “What is your best-best offer?”.This is what I did when haggling over a carpet the vendor wanted to sell at €150. A frequently repeated question in the Souks was “What is your best-best offer?”. Mine were full €30, all I’ve got left in my wallet. So I said thanks and walked out of the shop. A minute or two later, the seller came running and said “I make you very happy today, come back“. He sold the carpet at amazing €30.
What is your
As you’re done shopping and the evening comes, dozens of cooks and waiters start to build up their temporary food stalls. Soon the square will be full with the smell of delicious smoke. As you walk past the stalls, promoters will chat you up, pushing their menu under your nose, inviting you to have an – I quote – finger-lickin’ meal. I’d say go for it. Moroccan cuisine is delicious. If you’re up for an adventure, treat yourself to a Tajine. It’s probably the characteristic dish you can have. Tajine is a stew, traditionally with lamb and vegetables, cooked slowly in an earthenware dish. If you don’t like lamb, go for poultry and if your a vegetarian, there are options for you too. You can get a good meal for a few dirhams, but be ware of places with no prices on their menu cards. You’ll end up paying triple the price you’ve planned. Other than that, the night time is where most of the action happens and this offers wonderful photo opportunities.
But have a look for yourself. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Have ten of my favourite shots of the Djema el-Fna.
Let me also share a few notes on safety with you that can save you some nerves. Whether you are having a stroll during the day or enjoying the night entertainment, pay attention to your belongings. The square can get very busy, and because so much is going on, you can easily get distracted. Carry only as much cash with you as you plan to spend and, if you can, leave inessential tech-gadgets in your Riad. Nevertheless, Djemaa el-Fna is not any different, than other extremely crowded places. I’ve not once felt insecure in there, but caution is the best.
As I mentioned in my previous post about Morocco, vendors and food-stall promotes might appear somewhat pushy. If you end up in an uncomfortable situation, just politely say thank you and walk away. No harm done. Beside salesmen (I’m aware of the fact that I’ve not used gender-sensitive language here, but sellers barely ever are female), you will encounter small children trying to get you buy napkins or other small things. If you’re not willing to get anything, more often than not, they will also ask you for money. It’s completely up to you, whether you are willing to spare some change, but keep in mind, that these situations are very common and might be unpleasant at times. However, I reckon if you are well prepared for your journey and aware of these issues, you can avoid being taken off guard.
If I got you interested, follow my adventures on my other social media and stay tuned. There’s more to come!