Place Jemaa el-Fna is the large market square in the Marrakech medina (old city). This square features street performers, snake charmers, and vendors all surrounded by a myriad of alleys full of souks. You simply cannot visit Marrakech without experiencing this bustling area. I’d recommend visiting both at night and during the day, because it is a completely different experience!
Jemaa el-Fna has been a meeting space since the founding of Marrakech in the 11th century. The square inspired UNESCO’s “Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001. Place Jemaa el-Fnaa features a lot of aspects of Morocco’s heritage, including storytelling and entertainment. –
“The spectacle of Jemaa el Fna is repeated daily and each day it is different. Everything changes—voices, sounds, gestures, the public which sees, listens, smells, tastes, touches. The oral tradition is framed by one much vaster – that we can call intangible. The Square, as a physical space, shelters a rich oral and intangible tradition.”
During the day, the square is quite open. Late afternoon, Jemaa el-Fna starts to fill up and by evening it’s packed full! You’ll find henna artists, fortune tellers, medicine men, and more. In the evening, entertainers attract huge crowds with storytelling and music performances.
The daytime refreshment stands with endless supplies of fresh orange juice disappear at night to make room for food stands. There are cafes around the edge of the square, many with great balcony views over all the activity.
Winding streets filled with souks stem from the open square. To me, the medina is a shopper’s paradise. There are so many things to see and buy!
As I was with my in-laws who are locals, I never had to worry about haggling for price – I just sat back while they negotiated with the vendors for me. Local advice: never settle for the first price a vendor gives you. Generally, if you say no thanks and start to leave they will probably offer a lower price. But don’t be afraid to negotiate!
Though I had already bought a lot when visiting Essaouira earlier in the week, I was deadset on buying some lanterns for my upcoming wedding. I was told Marrakech would have a wider selection of lanterns, and indeed there were plenty to choose from! I somehow squeezed 10 lanterns into my little suitcases!!
Know Before You Go
Always ask before taking a picture of people, and be respectful. In some places, if you take a picture you will be expected to tip.
Increased tourism in Marrakech has lead to some unfortunate aspects. Pick-pocketing is prevalent, especially in big crowds. Plan accordingly and do not carry too much cash. Ten Moroccan Dirhams is roughly worth 1 USD, so you shouldn’t need to hold that much cash anyways.
It’s also quite sad to see the monkeys in chains and snake charmers. Please note: if the snake charmers or monkey handlers see you take a picture, they will ask for money.
Place Jemaa el-Fna is extremely vibrant, both day and night. Be prepared to be overwhelmed in the best way!