Morocco snake charmerMany know Marrakech as a bustling cultural hub, rich with historical sites, museums and colorful souks. Locals and visitors alike are especially drawn to Place Djemaa el Fna, the city’s main square, which showcases a nightly maze of dinner stalls, storytellers, musicians, artists and more. The reputation makes Marrakech a natural home to the Popular Arts Festival, taking place July 10-18 this year.

Thousands of Moroccans and international visitors flock to the festival each year to admire the artistic feats of performers from throughout Morocco and around the world (particularly Europe and Asia). Attending the range of Moroccan performances will give you a taste of the nation’s ancient past as well as its modern pop culture. Look for featured performances by ancient folk dancers, traditional Berber musicians, and fusion and pop bands. Other talents on display include fire swallowers, storytelling, snake charming and acrobatics. The nightly “Fantasia” just outside of town also draws crowds with groups of men and women in traditional clothing, presenting a choreographed performance on horseback.

While the event centers on performance arts, festival goers can also expect plenty of food and shopping. Take an opportunity to try some of the nation’s best snail soup, sheep’s head and other traditional fare. Since July temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, be sure to carry water and stop by some of the stands selling freshly squeezed orange juice. Artisans from throughout Morocco attend the festival to sell their wares, so you can look forward to browsing handicrafts made in various regions of the country.

Several venues throughout Marrakech host performances; however, plan to stay somewhere with easy access to the El Badi Palace ruins or Place Djemaa el Fna to be near most of the action. Place Djemaa el Fna manages to accommodate several visiting entertainers in addition to the usual array of local talent. The normally quiet El Badi Palace, a site of 16th-century ruins, functions as the main location for the festival’s major events.

Written by Shelley A. Gable, instructional designer and freelance writer.

Photo by dolanh.