Jemaa El Fna has functioned as the main market and cultural hub of Marrakesh for a thousand years.
Every day people congregate in the square to be entertained by snake charmers, preachers, apothecaries, henna tattooists, poets, traditional water-carriers, acrobats, fortune-tellers, monkey trainers, Berber musicians, dancers and santoor players.
People entertaining the crowds in Jemaa El Fna
Jemaa El Fna the triangular square
The square, which is actually more of a triangle shape, is in the Medina quarter of the city and is surrounded by hotels, restaurants and public buildings.
It is in the centre of the square where the entertainers draw in the crowds. The square comes to life at nine o.clock in the morning and continues to midnight. As the day goes on, more and more pop up food stalls and performers appear. As the evening comes smoke from the food stalls thickens the air and the atmosphere of Jemaa El Fna goes from a bustling market to an intoxicating and at times chaotic mass.
Many of the hotels around the edge of the square open their roof-top restaurants at dusk so people can watch the sunset over the square.
People gathering in the Square
My painting : Night time in Jemaa El Fna
In my painting of Jemaa el-Fna I have tried to capture the busy and chaotic atmosphere after the sun sets with the crowds of people buzzing around the food stalls.
The History of Jemaa El Fna
Jemaa El Fna dates back to 1062 and the founding of Marrakesh by the Almoravids. Around this time the square was the site of public executions, hence its name Jemaa El Fna, which some say means ‘assembly of the dead’. Although some people translate Jemaa El Fna as ‘Mosque of Ruins’. When the Almohads took the city in 1147 they renovating the square and the city around it. Since 1922 the square has had protection as part of Morocco’s artistic heritage since 1922.
Some Tips for visiting Jemaa El Fna
- To get the best photos visit at dusk. Also remember if you do photograph people it is best to ask first.
- People will hassle you, so if you don’t intend to buy then don’t engage.
- Beware of pick-pockets.
- Be sure to visit one of the cafes in the early evening so you can catch the sun setting over the square.
- And if like me you are scared of snakes, be sure to walk the other way whenever you hear the snake-charming music.