Djemaa El Fna, Marrakech
As the world becomes more populated, time becomes more precious, and communications more virtual, the phenomenon of human interaction is in decline. Places which less than a hundred years ago would have been the hubs of communities, the centre of trade and interactions, have been bulldozed to make way for malls, fast-food restaurants and low-cost housing. This makes Morocco’s centre-piece – the Djemaa El Fna – even more impressive.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Djemaa El Fna is like a living, throbbing carpet, patterned not by knots of wool, but by knots of human beings. In a country with Spanish, Arabic, French and African influences, the square feels like a gathering place for disparate cultures, traditions and races. A step into the square takes you out of the cool, dark and dusty souks, into the light, heat, chaos and the smoke of the square’s two hundred plus mobile restaurants, the frantic din of snake charmer’s oboes, and the hum of tourist touts, henna artists, Berber potion makers, Senegalese dancers, Spanish acrobats, Gnaoua musicians, Moroccan singers, tea sellers… and monkeys.
Described as ‘live action channel surfing everywhere you look’ by Lonely Planet, the Djemaa el-Fna is best experienced at night when the halqu (street theatre) starts. After dodging the motorcycles, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages, you may like to try a glass of fresh orange, a bowl of snail soup or maybe sheep’s brain? Or listen to tales from Arabic folklore, or contemporary tales where locals come back to the storytellers, night after night – the original soap opera – all in the shadow of Morocco’s most famous of mosques.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the square is its longevity. Almost a millennium since the the first executions took place at the Djemaa El Fna, it was rocked by another act of cowardly violence: a terrorist attack on one of the busy terraced cafes, killing 15, 10 of whom were tourists.
A month after the bombing, Amazing Stuff’s man-temporarily-in-Morocco saw the damage for himself. While the country was obviously in shock, and the tourist numbers were down, the Djemaa’s heartbeat was thumping again. It seems, despite the onset of super-technologies, political upheaval and terrorist attacks, nothing can quell the square’s vibrancy, nor knock it from its position at the forefront of Morocco’s cultural heritage. It is truly an amazing place.