Jemaa el Fna square: the beating heart of Marrakesh
Situated next to Koutoubia mosque, Jemaa el Fna square is the true heart of the city of Marrakesh. Here, you can gauge the pulse of a city that wears its uniqueness on its sleeve. The enormous public space is the meeting point of scores of people, both locals and foreigners, who stand goggle-eyed contemplating the lively scene. You will find snake charmers, monkey tamers, dancers, letter writers, water carriers… And, above all, a string of cafés and restaurants where people of all ages and walks of life come, filling the square both in the day and at night. The square is also one of the best places to eat traditional Moroccan food in Marrakesh. It is not for nothing that Unesco declared Jemaa el Fna square a site of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2001.
History of Jemaa el Fna square
Jemaa el Fna square has existed at least from as early as the eleventh century, when the city of Marrakesh was founded. Since then, it has been one of the focal points of the religious, cultural and traditional life of Morocco. It is, in any case, a meeting point for both the local population and people from elsewhere, no matter where they come from.
All through the day, and until well into the night, a variety of services are offered, such as dental care, from the dentist who comes with his equipment in a briefcase, to the witch doctor and his infusions, through to fortune tellers, henna tattooists, traditional desert water carriers and vendors selling fruit and vegetables grown on their own plots. It is also typical to find traditional carts serving dates and fresh orange juice to the public for just under 50 cents.
In addition, entertainment is always guaranteed on Jemaa el Fna square, with storytellers, poets, snake charmers, Berber musicians, dancers and actors. The oral expressions of popular culture are passed on from one person to another and continue to generate a great deal of interest, judging by the circles that form around the storyteller, meaning there is no risk that the legends passed on by oral traditional will disappear. At least for the time being.
What to do and see on Jemaa el Fna square
The activities taking place on Jemaa el Fna square and its general appearance change depending on the time of the day. It is therefore a good idea to stroll around the square both in the day and at night, because, depending on the time, you will find a different, although always lively, atmosphere,
Jemaa el Fna square in the day
Unique characters abound, such as dentists willing to pull out teeth without prejudice, traditional snake charmers, monkey tamers and more, as well as numerous stands serving orange juice, snails and spices to add to stews.
Jemaa el Fna square at night
When night falls, the square changes radically. Under a warm light, the square is occupied by scores of buskers improvising melodies, actors performing shows, and more, alongside new food stalls serving dinner to the tourists and locals that come to the square. Jemaa el Fna is one of the best places for nightlife in Morocco. You can sample traditional Moroccan food at street stalls, and the prices are also very affordable. If you like meat skewers and fried fish, you won’t have any issues when it comes to dinner.
Cafés on the square and what to eat
Visiting Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh is a must on any getaway to the so-called Red City, as is going up to one of the rooftop terraces of the restaurants and cafés that line the square. This is the best way to enjoy, from up high, the comings and goings of the people, who make the square a vibrant and sometimes deafening place.
One of the most unique restaurants on the square is Chez Chegrouni, which serves traditional Moroccan food at good prices and boasts excellent views over the square. Be sure to try the tagine, the Moroccan pastilla, the traditional harira soup and the couscous, although you cannot drink alcohol in this establishment. Instead, they serve a delicious mint tea, which contributes to the special aroma that envelops the square.
Chez Chegrouni is not the only restaurant on the square, however. As you will find various establishments with similar characteristics. This goes for Café Glacier, Les Terrases de l’Alhambra and Café de France. Café Argana and Café de la Place are also excellent places for a cup of tea or a traditional Moroccan dish while enjoying the spectacle that can be seen overlooking the square.
Jemaa el Fna square: the perfect location
Jemaa el Fna square is next to the medina of Marrakesh, in the historic quarter of the city, which means the public space, visited by practically all tourists and many locals, is very easy to reach. It is also very close to Koutoubia mosque, Marrakesh Museum, Ben Youssef Madrasa and the Dar Si Said Museum.