When I first arrived at Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech’s main square, it was during the call of prayer. There are at least four mosques within earshot of the square, and the whole place lit up with the praising of Allah over the microphone. It was like dueling mosques: the sounds from one, repeated seconds later on the other side of the square from another. It was an exhilarating way to enter into one of Morocco’s craziest cities. The square was bustling with anticipation: people setting up food stands, selling trinkets and playing music. Snake charmers sat on the ground with baskets and played their enchanting music on flutes. It was early in the evening, and the place had not yet “taken off”. I found my hostel without any problem, and was so proud of myself for being able to locate my way through the winding streets. After getting settled in, I wandered back to the square to find food.
I’ve spend three non-consecutive nights in Marrakech, and no matter what I’ve intended to see or do during the city, I’ve always been drawn back to Djemaa el-Fna. The place has a certain gravitational pull, that is alluring and exciting. It’s crazy, and it’s chaotic and it arouses all the senses at once. At night, the place is filled with over 100 food stalls. The cooks yell over their smoke filled grills to entice you eat from their stall. The busy staff speak a little bit of a million languages, yelling at you in English, Spanish, German, French, you name it. They all have their own lines to get you in. “25, feel alive!”, “I’m number 1, literally!” One guy came up to me and spoke in a perfect cockney accent. I was so shocked I stood around just to hear what he had to say. It was such an unusual accent on a Moroccan man. Next to the food stalls are men with carts full of sweets. 15 sweets for 30 dirham! Then the juice stands… Row upon row upon row of orange juice stands. All selling freshly squeezed orange juice for 4 dirham. Interspersed between the juice stands were men selling nuts: peanuts, candy coated almonds, pistachios, dates, dried figs. How all these stalls compete against one another is beyond me.
Beyond the food and drinks is the entertainment. Snake charmers, magicians, beggars, men with monkeys climbing on their shoulders: there are dancers and drummers and musicians of all kinds. People sit in circles around the musicians, listening to sounds blend from all over the square into a cacophony of noise. The square is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It is madness at it’s greatest.
After three evenings of this, and wandering around the maze of souks, looking at all the things I shouldn’t buy, but desperately wanted, I decided it was enough. Time to move on from the Marrakech craze. My final stop in Morocco would be Fez, the oldest and arguably the most revered city in the country.
(No pictures can do this place justice, and all the entertainers charge you to take photos, so I’m sorry I don’t have any to include here)