TOP 8 ATTRACTIONS IN JMA EL FNA SQUARE, MARRAKECH
If you are planing to visit Marrakech, Jemaa el Fna or Jma el Fna square is a mandatory stop. This is without a doubt one of the most charming squares and things to do in the world. To really squeeze it you will need to get to know it both by day and by night. For a thousand years, the Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakech has served as a meeting place and marketplace in the heart of Marrakech. Soothsayers, snake charmers, poets, henna tattooers, massagers, storytellers and many more come to entertain the crowds creating an intoxicating atmosphere unique in the world.
During the day, most of the square is nothing more than a large open space with lots of stalls selling natural juice, spices, traditional medicines, cosmetics and many other things. A handful of snake charmers cast a spell on their cobras with flutes, the healers (especially in the northeast of the square) display cures and noses, and the tooth pullers, wielding fearsome pliers, offer to pull the pain out of the heads of toothache sufferers, trays of extracted teeth that attest to their skill. It is not until late in the afternoon that the square really gets going. Once the sun sets, Jemaa el Fna really comes to life. The restaurants around the square start serving hungry customers as they walk around the square. Berber musicians and Gnaoua dancers begin their evening performances, acrobats and comedian jesters begin to perform throughout the square, and henna tattoo artists compete for customers as storytellers, and poets pass on Morocco’s oral traditions.
Without a doubt you must enjoy this square and so that you don’t miss out we are going to comment on what we consider to be the “top attractions to enjoy this square”.
Ait Ben Haddou
HISTORY AND BACKGROUND OF JMA EL FNA MARRAKECH SQUARE
To begin with, we will briefly describe the history of this square. If these details do not interest you, you can go directly to the list of activities in Jemaa el-Fna. This square dates back to the foundation of Marrakech by the Almoravids in 1062 and later grew in importance when the Almohads took the city in 1147, renovating the square and the city around it. In these times it was the place of public executions, hence its name Jemaa el-Fna, which means “assembly of the dead”. Today, the market serves as a bridge between the old and new sections of Marrakech, and continues to serve the community as a vibrant center for commerce, social life and cultural expression. Like the city itself, Jemaa el-Fna has undergone long periods of decline and revitalization throughout its long history. For parts of the 20th century the square was also used as a transport station, but since 2000 it has been completely closed to car traffic. A source of entertainment for the local community and travellers, the market functions both as a traditional market and as an open-air stage for various musical, religious and theatrical performances.
Jemaa el-Fna’s position as an important place of cultural exchange and artistic heritage was the inspiration for UNESCO’s “Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001. When the locals and other stakeholders began to fight to protect the traditions of the square from the growing pressures of economic development, UNESCO joined in. Jemaa el-Fna became the first place to obtain Masterpiece status, helping to promote and safeguard its traditions.
During the opening meeting of the new UNESCO initiative, Spanish poet and novelist Juan Goytisolo highlighted the qualities of the historic square: “The spectacle of Jemaa el Fna is repeated daily and each day is different. Everything changes: the voices, the sounds, the gestures, the audience that sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches. The oral tradition is framed by a much wider one, which we can call intangible. The Square, as a physical space, holds a rich oral and intangible tradition.”
8 Activities in Jemaa el fna Marrakech Square
1- Drink a mint tea on a rooftop
If there is something typical of Moroccan cuisine it is mint tea. Enjoying one of these sweet and tasty teas on one of the many rooftops and terraces that line the Jemaa El Fna square will allow you to observe the activity in the square from above giving you a good view of everything that goes on there. Both day and night these terraces are a very good option.
Tea in rooftop Jma el Fna
2- Take great pictures
The magic of Jemaa el Fna is the transformation of a relatively functional marketplace during the day into bustling food stalls at night. As the light fades from the day and darkness descends on the square, the atmosphere is electric. With the last bits of light still on the square, the opportunities to take pictures are incredible.
Comment that Moroccans don’t like having their pictures taken. If they are in your spotlight they will cover their face and generally let you know that they don’t want their picture taken. In Jemaa el Fna square, except for the street vendors, they are there to earn money from tourists who want to take a picture of them holding a monkey or charming a snake. If they see you take a photo without paying, they will bother you for money, or ask you to delete the photo. So, Jemaa el Fna is one of the most photogenic places in Marrakech. Enjoy it, but be a little careful what you capture.
Horse and buggy in Jemaa el Fna
3- Dinner at the night stands like a Berber king
Jemaa el Fna is one of the best places for street food in Marrakech. Lunch or dinner here is an experience beyond the food itself, the atmosphere of one of the most exciting places in the world. There is a lot on offer and they will come after you offering menus, it is a bit overwhelming but don’t feel violent and choose calmly, there is no problem in saying “no”. Among the specialties you can taste in Jemaa El Fna square are the sheep heads or the snails in their spicy broth. Whatever you have for dinner, you will surely remember your night in Jemaa el Fna.
4- Participate in the evening’s entertainment
As soon as the sun sets over Marrakech, the Jemaa El Fna square comes alive and offers the spectators many activities. Try your hand at miniature golf or bottle fishing, or watch the street acrobats perform – it’s impossible to get bored! You will also notice the monkeys and snakes, but this is a business we prefer not to encourage.
You can listen to the storytellers or find the heritage of the ancient Berber tribes. There are also wizards who pull oohs and aahs from attentive children or dancers.
Do you have an ailment that needs to be addressed? No problem, Jemaa el Fna is also a hot spot for traditional medicine. Do you have a tooth that bothers you? A local healer can extract it on the spot at very competitive prices.
The downside of entertainment at Jemaa el Fna is the nightly abuse of animal rights. Snake charmers perform for tourists and children use monkeys as props for photos. The practice of using these animals for tourism affects their welfare, so we suggest that you do your best not to encourage their use. We have some more tips on this below.
Jma el Fna snakes
5- Go shopping in the souk
The maze of alleyways that form the medina of Marrakech point towards Jemaa el Fna Square. Also in the square, products are sold in more or less improvised stalls. Dates, figs, almonds and nuts are piled up on top of the carts. The towers of spices match the colour of the bags on display and the stream of orange juice runs through the streets. The great competition in Marrakech means that you can get very competitive prices for whatever you want to buy. Do not forget that in Morocco it is essential to haggle to get a good price. In this article you can find an infallible technique to get it. It is something that should not stress you or make you angry, take it as something not so serious since you are not playing a good sum, joke with the seller and enjoy the experience.
Marrakech medina souk
6- Get a henna tattoo
One of the things most women like to do in Morocco is a henna tattoo. When you return home it will still last you a few days keeping alive the illusion of your journey through Morocco. The art of applying temporary henna tattoos on hands and feet has been traditionally used for celebrations and rites of passage: wedding engagements, weddings, births, religious festivals and holidays. The tattoo is temporary and will gradually lose color. If it is natural henna between 7 to 14 days after its application there will be no trace of it. These tattoos are not expensive and you can get one done by a Moroccan woman in Jemaa el fna square. Keep in mind that these women are there to earn money from these tattoos they give to tourists. In many cases they will inflate the prices so unless you have no problem in paying what they ask we recommend that your guide or in your hotel informs you where to get one or what is the maximum price you should pay for one.
7- Drink a natural juice
In the square there is an area with many stands with fruit. These are stalls where they make natural juices prepared on the spot with the fruit of your choice. A fresh juice is always appreciated and the prices are really competitive. It is highly recommended to try them.
Juice stall Jma el Fna
8- Admire the Koutoubia (the great mosque of Marrakech)
The Koutoubia is the largest mosque in Marrakech. Its 77 meter high minaret is decorated with a green ceramic band. The mosque is in the shape of a “T”, and includes a large courtyard surrounded by a portico and a prayer room with columns.
Its 17 naves, supported by numerous white pillars, house one of the largest prayer rooms in the Muslim West with a capacity of up to 20,000 worshippers.
The architecture of the Koutoubia has inspired other monuments around the world, including the Giralda in Seville.
To be taken into account before going to Jemaa el Fna Marrakech square
Jemaa el-Fna is located in the medina district of Marrakech. The square is open every day and the square starts to come alive around 8 a.m. and continues until at least midnight. Pickpockets are common, especially after dark. Also be prepared to see some questionable practices among snake charmers and monkey trainers, who sometimes treat their animals in a less than ethical manner. Unfortunately, there is a market for this type of entertainment because tourists give money for the novelty of having their picture taken with a creature they don’t see every day. Of course, enjoy the magic of Jemaa el Fna. But please do not support the animal keepers by giving them money.
Be careful when you take pictures! Always ask to avoid arguing with snake charmers, monkey trainers, singers… Also be careful because Moroccans generally don’t like to be photographed.
The street vendors clearly earn money from tourists absorbed by the novelty of Jemaa el Fna. And for the most part, they are attractive, entertaining and add to the general atmosphere of the square. But, sometimes they can annoy tourists to the point of frustration. Henna tattooers are known for offering a quick design for what seems to be free, only to chase customers to pay later. Street vendors at food stalls can be overly aggressive when trying to lure customers or deliver food they did not order and then demand that they pay for it.
Our best advice is to avoid compromising if you have no intention of making a purchase and do not accept anything for free. If someone tries to sell you something you don’t want or give you something for free, just politely decline.
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