The Jemaa el-Fna square is one of the most exciting places that I have ever visited.

It is the heart of Marrakesh’s medina and one of Africa’s most famous square. (In order to get know more about this city, I do recommend reading the previous article). The square was elected, by UNESCO, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

I have to start by saying that everything stated here falls very short if the reader’s intent is to have a clear grip on what this place is – the commercial and activity hub of Marrakesh. The Portuguese author Miguel Sousa Tavares affirms in the book “Sul” that “every single one of the city’s gates” should state “Marrakesh: live slow and leave fast”. “Because Marrakesh is an ambush”.

To step inside the medina through one of its gates is to enter a place from which, in some way, we will never get out…

Let’s get to know it better.

After the 16th century, the square was described as a locale in which trading took place. But its current name came up a bit later than that. A sultan had the intent to build a mosque in the place where the square was located, giving it the name of Jemaa el-Hna. However, a plague emerged, which decimated part of the population and the mosque was not concluded.

Even with the mosque being destroyed, the square ended up adopting the name of Jemma El-Fna – the site of the vanished mosque.

There is a legend which mentions that Jemaa el-Fna means Assembly of the Death, since this spot was used to carry out the public beheadings of felons. This practice was kept until the 19th century. 45 individuals could be beheaded in a single day and the heads were preserved and displayed at the gates, for instance.

Throughout the years Jemaa El-Fna endured periods of decline and regeneration, similar to the rest of the city. Throughout the 20th century it was used a bus terminus, and is closed to traffic since 2000.

Nowadays the square is a place where one can see its people and their ancestral customs.

The constant back-and-forth movement of Moroccan, carriages, bikes and wheelbarrows at any given time. And the frenzy just gets bigger as the day moves on.

After the city’s awakening, stands displaying delicious tamarinds and juicy oranges appear, snake charmers and monkey trainers, fortune-telling women or those who perform henna tattoos. The famous water carriers also come to life, with their super photogenic and typical vests. Tasting a tamarind and orange juice is imperative.

As the sun sets, the Jemaa el-Fna square changes its features, amplifying the rhythm of everything that happens there. The restaurant stands start to arrive and the fumes of the cooking gradually being to be seen and, by the end of the night, it is solely a single smoke screen. The odors of the spices can be felt far away… Here you can taste a nice tajine along with some mint tea.

In addition the stands, there are also Moroccan people who tell stories, sing, draw, dance or assemble games. Even without being familiar with the Arabic language, it’s deeply interesting to attend all these events that emerge and, perhaps, engage in those.

The spectacle of Jemaa el-Fna is different every single day. “It hosts a rich and unattainable oral tradition”, as put by Juan Goytisolo. Be part of this unique spectacle in the world at least once. It’s pure magic.

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