The Djemaa El Fna Square in Marrakech

The American composer and writer Paul Bowles once said about the Djemaa el Fna square that “without it Marrakech would be just another Moroccan city”. The square, besides being the geographical, social, cultural, economic and emotional focal point of the city, it is also a place absolutely unique in the world. Its vibrant and heterogeneous atmosphere, the idiosyncrasy of its shows and its cultural, ethnic and social miscellany leave an indelible mark on each of its visitors.

The Djemaa el Fna square, which dates from the 11th century, is the main square in Marrakech and the most famous place of the Ochre City. It is located at a stone’s throw from the Koutoubia’s minaret, built by the Almohads and which was the model for Seville’s famous Giralda, and welcomes over a million tourists a year, besides the enormous and permanent local audience.

There are several hypotheses about the name of the square. The word “djemaa” means “mosque” in Arabic, although it also refers to any place of assembly or congregation. On the other hand, the term “fna” is rather mysterious, since it refers to the idea of nothingness and death. Thus, the two main philological theories point at two possible translations: the first one would refer to an Almoravid mosque now disappeared and would mean “site of the destroyed mosque”; the second translation, quite macabre, would translate as “assembly of the dead”, in reference to the capital executions and the cut off heads that would have been exhibited there.

Djemaa el Fna is one of the largest and more animated squares in the world. Moreover, as pointed out by the Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo on his article Jemâa-el-Fna’s thousand and one nights, the square is “the only place on the planet where musicians, storytellers, dancers, jugglers and bards put on a new show before large crowds every day of the year”.

The square’s entertainments are innumerable and curious and include, among many others, snake charmers, henna tattooists, story tellers, fortune tellers, scribes, transvestite dancers, acrobats, marabouts or spiritual masters stating their teachings, street dentists, water sellers, Barbary apes tamers, al kinds of musicians and dancers, fairground attractions, magicians and traditional potions dealers.

Besides the constant and varied entertainments, the square is packed with food stalls that proliferate at dusk and is surrounded by numerous cafés and restaurants. Next to the square you can find Morocco’s largest souk or traditional market, organised according to the different trades and crafts offered: spices, jewellery, forged iron, cosmetics, rugs, etc.

Djemaa el Fna has suffered countless aggressions throughout its history and its original size has gradually and considerably been reduced. The first efforts to protect the square go back to 1922, when a dahir or royal decree established that the square was a site to be protected from building greeds. But the square kept undergoing cement aggressions until, thanks to the intense efforts of the writer Juan Goytisolo directed at preserving its cultural heritage, threatened by real estate speculators or, as he calls them, “industriguer” forces, was finally considered by UNESCO in 2001 as Intangible World Cultural Heritage.

I passionately invite you to visit this unrepeatable and unique square, where Hitchcock filmed several scenes of his film “The man who knew too much” and whose oral and cultural patrimony are a true world privilege.

Hotels in Marrakech are affordable and first-class and you can also stay in one of the charming and authentic Marrakech riads, located quite close to this universal square.

Interview de M. Taïb Fassi Fihri : ministre marocain des affaires étrangères Le ministre marocain des affaires étrangères était de passage mercredi dernier à Bruxelles, porteur auprès des Institutions européennes de la vision de Rabat sur la situation au Sahara occidental. Entre deux réunions, notre correspondant a pu le rencontrer et le questionner sur les derniers développements à Al Ayoun et dans la région. Taib Fassi Fihri, Moroccan Foreign Minister: …
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