Jemaa El Fna, The Heartbeat of Marrakesh
“Why did you choose Marrakesh for your last visit?” Leila, my compartment mate in my train journey from Tangier to Marrakesh asked me.
“I just save the best for last,” I answered shortly.
“Well. Marrakesh is really interesting city,” She said again. “But, it is not the best. Instead, I found it so hectic and complicated in the same time. My friendly advice, if you don’t want to buy anything from the vendors in Jemaa el Fna, do not take a look their goods,”
I said good bye to Leila after she dropped me to cafe de Franc, located rightly in the middle of Jemaa El Fna Square. I ordered croissant and a cup of coffee while waiting for Abdul from Riad Maud, where I will stay in the next five days. Abdul came just after I finished my coffee. The riad is located in the middle of medina. From the square, we entered an alley, walked straight, turned right, turned left, turned right, turned right again, until I forgot how many times we turned, and we finally arrived at the riad. The riad itself is not that big, it has more less 10 rooms only. Its shape was similar to Riad Nasim in Fes, with larger organized space. In the middle of the building, big void and mezzanine are there where the guests could relax with their books and limitless mint tea served by riad management. I slept for few hours since I could not sleep really well on the train. In the late afternoon, equipped by the map given by Abdul, I went to Jemaa el Fna square.
The Jemaa el Fna square is known as the place for cultural exchange and had became the symbol and heartbeat of the city since the eleventh century. The square itself had been declared by UNESCO as one of the lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. During the day, most of places are just a large open space. In some spots, the snake charmers tried their fortune by playing their flutes and cobras to attract the travelers. At the other places, orange juice sellers had opened their stalls. Early in the afternoon, the fortune-tellers and healers come along, claimed that they are able to cure any kind of diseases, from toothache, headache, to broken hearts. I was grinning while imagining my self coming to these people and told them my hurtful love stories to collect the pieces of my broken heart. Walking further, I found the henna tattooists sat on the bench while expecting travelers to come.
It was only in the afternoon that the square really happens. The scene was so different compared to the early hours. That was true what Leila said, that Jemaa el Fna could be too hectic started from the afternoon. There were probably hundreds or even thousands people came in the same time. The square was not only full by international traveler, but also the local ones. When I walked, I had to watch my steps to avoid myself to be hit by the bikes, motor bikes, taxies, horses, donkeys, and other pedestrians. The cafes in Jemaa el Fna get benefits from their strategic locations. The ones with the balconies allowed the travelers to come onto their terrace to see the square from the top. However, every guest is expected to buy something from the caffe, at least get some drink there. These places became the favorite places for photographers and documentary movie maker. After struggling for almost 30 minutes, I finally found a good spot to catch some moments from the top, after running before a group of movie maker.
In the evening, the square was unimaginable crowded. The dancers wearing traditional Moroccan clothes started their performances, while the musicians played their instruments. I could hear different kind of music replaced from one to another when I move from one spot to another. Snake charmers competed with monkey owners to attract the visitors having some pictures with their ‘pet’. I was not interested with those monkeys, considering we have a lot in Indonesia. Some water seller with their unique clothes also took the part. By the way, these sellers, they did not really sell water. They just acted like a model, and expected travelers to take their photos and pay them with some dirhams. In other corner of the square, endless music entertained the visitors.
In other corner, the food seller started to open their stalls. Every place was equipped with tent, kitchen, food stall, number and a person who kept calling customers to come into their tents. Many kind of foods are available. Tajine and couscous are deifninetly there. Additionally, other kind of foods were competing such as meat brochette, fried chicken, shrimp, calamari and escargot. The Jemaa el Fna is really the mess Leila described. It was one of the most hectic places I’ve been visited but also mesmerizing people-watching places in the world. There is no place that I could find where thousands of people eating, getting henna tattoos, shopping, listening to story tellers, watching acrobats and magicians that could blow everyone’s mind.