The Djemaa El-Fna square is the beating heart of Marrakech, which translates roughly as ‘the Assembly of the Dead’, but it could not be more alive. It is unorganized chaos and bedlam, people will accost you each and every way you turn, trying to sell you god only knows what. Trying to tell you stories you can’t understand, taking you by the hand and proceeding to henna tattoo it, asking you for money having already done the tattoo. These are known as the Henna Hustlers, and are just one of many ‘traders’ that make up the cacophony of Djemaa El-Fna square. However this is somehow only adds to its charms, you simply have to adapt. You have to realise that you will be targeted for every possible blag for money as a westerner, but as long as you are aware you can start to understand and enjoy this magical place. For example if you wish to purchase something, be prepared to be asked for around %500 than it is actually worth. One way to barter is put the amount you want to pay in your pocket, say that is all you have and start to walk away. Nine times out of ten they will make the sale to you. You will soon realise that you are not in the UK, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
The square gets its name from what it was originally a parade ground made by the Amorovids, in front of their royal fortress. The name ‘Assembly of the Dead’ specifically refers to the executions which would take place here, the pickled heads exhibited for all to see upon spikes.
By night the square literally transforms. I would recommend sitting and waiting for the sunset, and watch the whole scene unfold before your eyes, like a theatre of the night with the cast of thousands. Night and day the orange juice sellers will be ever present; gypsy style ramshackle carts piled high with oranges, other traders crammed into every other nook and cranny with all manner of dried fruit and nuts for sale. The many mint sellers you can barely see behind their small green mountains. To the ever increasing throng of tribal drums played on animal skinned drums, more and more clusters of figures gather under rough parasols. The Henna Hustlers will be out in force seeking undrawn hands and feet, and the snake charmers sat cross legged playing entrancing sounds holding the mighty cobra in a somnambulistic trance, which in turn is strangely entrancing to watch. You will see men leading nappy wearing monkeys, charlatans, beggars and traders performing the most weird and wonderful spectacles before your eyes.
It is a bizarre bedlam, entire make shift kitchens are pulled onto the square with tables and chairs making it a huge outdoor restaurant of sorts, with scooters and rickshaws beeping and weaving through it all. It has a circus like atmosphere, and you will go away with some definitely perception changing memories!
Staying in a Riad in Marrakech is the only way to experience the country just as the locals do, book one by clicking here for your next holiday!