Marrakech isn’t the kind of getaway for those after peace and tranquility and nothing encompasses this better than the central square, Djemaa el Fna. I mentioned before how weird it is to have Koutoubia Mosque on the side of a bustling, crazy road but just past that main road, the craziness is ramped up a gear.
By day, Djemaa el Fna is like any typical market. In fact, it’s pretty tame compared to some of the more aggressive Asian ones I’ve visited. There are handful of stalls set up with cafes and restaurants surrounding the perimeter. The only thing you’ve really got to be on your guard for are cars and motorbikes randomly whizzing past you – I was certain the square was supposed to be pedestrianised, though if Marrakech taught me anything, it’s that there’s nothing that will stop a Moroccan motorcyclist.
Most notably, the square is lined with loads of orange stalls. I’m a huge orange fan and the Moroccan oranges were just heavenly. Here, the stalls stack the oranges like some daring game of Jenga and serve them in the form of refreshing orange juice which was a welcome refresher when the days started to get warm. There are so many stalls parked side by side that you wonder how any of them stay in business. They’re all priced the same (4dh for a glass) so there’s not really much competition between them. I guess they just have to hope that a lot of people want to drink orange juice. Beer is in low supply in Morocco so maybe orange juice is the decidedly healthier alternative.
By the time the sun goes down, that big open patch on the picture above is no longer visible as hundreds (probably thousands) of locals and tourists flock to the Square. It’s at this time that it becomes a true assault on the senses. The tunes of the snake charmers are in the air (though they’ll charge you if you try and get a sneaky picture), random monkeys dart at your feet and some rather unhappy salesmen lug around gigantic mirrors that I can’t imagine they’d sell in a million years.
The food stalls are the craziest section of the night market. We’d already eaten but decided to stroll through out of curiosity, but we couldn’t move without being surrounded by hordes of men telling us to eat in their place. Their sales patter obviously worked because all the stalls seemed absolutely rammed full of people. Further back behind the food stalls are lots of market stalls, selling everything from fez beanie hats to gigantic candle holders. Also dotted around are plenty of women offering to do henna tattoos. Little Mother got one, though it had mostly faded after just a few days. Make sure you haggle with these women too – the original prices they suggest are extortionate. We found that threatening to walk away usually got them to agree to a fair price.
It’d been a while since I’d been somewhere which just kept pummelling me with sights, sounds and smells. Doing a circuit of it is actually quite exhausting but it’s great that the city has such a vibrant, bustling centrepiece. And it’s not just for tourists either – in fact, it was mostly made up of locals during the night, meaning it still had a real feel of authenticity. Just watch out for escaped monkeys.