Editor's Note: Since we began working together two years ago, Kurt Smith has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of this blog. Kurt left the bay area for Barcelona earlier this year, and he has busted my chops transatlantic-style ever since over the lack of new material here. We'd talked about him guest-blogging on Barcelona's markets for months. Then, without warning, I receive this post via email yesterday morning on Djemaa el Fna Square. As Kurt would say,"And now for something completely different..."
I just returned from an all too quick visit to Morocco where one of the highlights was my visit to Djemaa el Fna square and market place in the Medina quarter of Marrakech. Mychal frequently writes about his trips to the Grand Lake and Jack London Square farmers markets and as I stood in the middle of the Djemaa el Fna I realized how far away I was from both.
The square has been listed by UNESCO as a "Masterpiece of World Heritage" and is undoubtedly the center of daily life in Marrakech.
The square is surrounded by the Souk (the traditional Arabic market place), small streets and alleys, hotels, cafes, and restaurants. I visited the Cafe Glacier for a cold coke (no booze allowed) and from their 4th floor terrace that overlooks the entire square you can watch the smoke rise from the food stalls amidst the ever changing world of snake charmers, magicians, storytellers, beggars, jugglers, musicians, monkeys and dancers. The aroma of grilled meats, cumin, and turmeric rises up as your ears are filled with a mixture of drumming and singing, Berber, Arabic, French, and Spanish. The whole experience is wonderfully intense.
As I left the relative safety of the cafe and ventured into the square, I quickly realized that there is a very active street that runs almost smack dab through the middle of the square. I just missed getting hit by a moped who was avoiding a taxi who had stopped for a donkey cart carrying who knows what. Kids on bikes swirl around everywhere as well as thousands of pedestrians. I made my way towards the smokey food stall area where locals and tourists were dining. The most popular stands serve snail soup, seafood, kebabs, grilled meats and vegetables and the local speciality, Sheep's heads. All of the food is prepared right before your eyes and since this is such an important area for tourism, the food is fresh and the stalls are clean.
The rest of the square is unofficially divided into different zones, orange juice sellers on one side and dried fruit and nut stands on the other. In between are Arabic and Berber story tellers keeping their ancient tradition alive, old women selling henna tattoos, musicians from both Arab and African lands playing all sorts of home made instruments, magicians, and just about every other form of entertainment you can think of. I even saw the old three-card Monte trick performed right before my eyes. All of this and I had not yet entered the Souk, which is literally a whole different story.
If you ever get a chance to visit Morocco and Marrakech I highly recommend it. I look forward to returning to Djemaa el Fna soon.
PS In case you are wondering I did have the Sheep's head and it was really really good.