Marrakesh is one of Morocco’s largest and most popular destinations, and it can feel a bit overwhelming if you’re wandering into the city for the first time. Take a moment to orient yourself, then head to Jemaa el-Fnaa (Djema el-Fna or Djemaa el-Fnaa), the main square of Marrakesh and a marketplace located in the medina quarter, which is considered the old city.
The name Jemaa el-Fnaa is thought to mean “Assembly of the Dead” or “Place of the Vanished Mosque.” No one is sure of the exact meaning, though locals believe the name refers to an Almoravid mosque, which was destroyed over a century ago. Today, the most important thing about famed square is its relation to Marrakesh. Where there was once a mosque there is now a main square, which locals and visitors share throughout the year.
Jemaa el-Fnaa is bordered by Rue Moulay Ismail and Rue Riad Zitoun el-Kedim on the west and east, respectively. To further orient yourself, it helps to know that the Place de Foucauld, Oessabin Mosque and Place Bab Fteuh are also near the square.
Various Vibes At Dusk and Dawn
The vibe and rhythm of the square changes throughout the day. In daylight hours, Jemaa el-Fnaa is mostly a marketplace with water sellers, orange juice stalls and snake charmers. As afternoon takes over, the marketplace entertainment changes, the snake charmers leave and Chleuh dancing boys arrive on the scene. Storytellers share tales in Berber or Arabic; peddlers with medicines and magicians also become part of the entertainment. The square becomes more crowded as evening begins to fall. More food stalls appear when night descends.
Souk Ablueh is located to the east in Jemaa el-Fnaa. The Marrakesh souk is a traditional North African market where daily needs can be met for both locals and tourists. There are a number of tourist shops and cafes in the souk. If you prefer to escape the noise and commotion of the souk, walk to the other side of the square. This area is filled with yet more cafes, hotels and gardens. There are some alleyways which lead into the old city; wander along these for even more shopping opportunities.
Hustle & Bustle For Sure
The whole place is a very busy location that can take more than a day to explore. Consider breaking down your trip to the square into two days. Spend the first day getting acclimated to the sights, sounds and activities found here. Take a day to look through the various shops and determine what you might like to buy when you return on the second day to make your purchases. There are numerous wares sold at the souk, so it is possible to find another item you prefer over the first few things you see. The vendors will bargain on the price of their items. They expect this haggling and to refuse is an insult. Begin with a price you think is fair for the item and let your conversation determine the correct price. Never insult a vendor by offering a price that is too low for the quality of work.
One final thing of interest to visitors in the Jemaa el-Fnaa is the street theater, or hoopla, which has been around since 1050 AD. From dawn until midnight a variety of performers including astrologers, healers and belly dancers entertain the crowds. Enjoy a refreshing drink and take a seat at a café so that you can watch a dinner theater show of sorts with these eclectic performers as they move around the square or offer services from a booth.