Whilst in Morocco recently, we stayed in the heart of the Medina in Marrakesh, for those of you that have visited Marrakesh, you will know Jemaa el-Fnaa is the chaotic centre of the Medina. For those that haven’t visited Marrakesh, the Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known market squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade in Marrakesh. It has been described as a “world-famous square”, “a bridge between the past and the present”, but for me it is a place to explore and experience. It’s fascinating, definitely chaotic, loud (as my son described it), but also there are little havens in the forms of riad’s just off the main square.
I believe the name, Jemaa el-Fnaa loosely translates to “the assembly of trespassers”. Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square also attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history, I believe sometime in the 11th century.
The Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Kasbah and surrounding buildings, including the many impressive riad’s is fortified within a 19km 3 metre plus high wall which was built around 1170 AD.
Historically, the square attracted all different kinds of tradesmen, snake charmers, dancing boys of the Atlas tribes, and musicians playing drums, tambourines and pipes. Today, the tradesmen and snake charmers are still around, along with a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. These are joined by acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers and entertainers, and last but not least, pickpockets, although we did not encounter any.