Female Travel Marrakesh Morocco

Jemaa el-Fna Market in Marrakech, Morocco: The Square That Assaults Every Sense

Jemaa el-Fna Market in Marrakech, Morocco

 

The crown jewel of Marrakech (Marrakesh) in Morocco is its thriving market in the medina quarter: the Jemaa el-Fna.

The Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakech, Morocco

Night falls in Morocco and the Jemaa el-Fna itself springs to life: a throbbing, pulsing organism, a body of rhizomatic assemblages, of groups of people, tourists and locals, of species, of collectivities, of collision. It is space filled and empty, fluid and spreading, regrouping and growing and breathing, not any one thing, but a host of many things—of change, of movement, of life, and of tension, of an otherness that exists in a clash of culture, in the heckling of shop owners and the Australian teenagers walking around in booty shorts and the women in veils with Gucci logos and the men that stare, all zooming around like gas molecules in a dance.

 


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We had already been to several cities in Morocco  by this point, but something about this square was different. Everyone in the Jemaa el-Fna of Marrakech (or Marrakesh) exists in an implicit dance, set to the mystical horns of snake charmers—the melody that stops only when the night ends.


Food at the Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakech, Morocco
The square assaults every sense. Silver smoke plumes rise from food stalls stacked endlessly, conjuring rows of goat heads, boiling snails, and roasting kebabs, lancing through clouds of foggy air. The food sizzles and steams richness and spice, riding the air like a magic carpet. Performers post themselves beside the food canopies, lighthouses in the sea of bobbing heads.


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Every blink flashes storytellers, belly dancers, magicians, card readers, monkeys and cobras, shrouded in a cacophonous haze from which only the musical pipe of snake charmers can be clearly distinguished. Everything floats, genie-like, on the flute’s melody.

Smoke in the Jemaa el-Fna

The heartbeat of the square is the collective stomp and clap from the drum circles. It pulls us in, musicians floating around us as we twirl and shout, the outside world of the Jemaa el-Fna fading as we clap to the beat, lost at the foot of a mosque tower. The circle spits us out and the square jerks us from every direction—mobs of vendors tug us into their souks, shifty “guides” urge us into alleyways, women reel in our hands without warning, tracing henna designs in seconds and demanding a fee.

Lauren in a drum circle in the Jemaa el-Fna

Lauren in a drum circle

We dodge through tooting mopeds, bicycles, mules and cars, weaving around stalls and the people that keep coming and coming, running from catcalls from men to SHAKE YER BOT, running from the Moroccans who chase us for taking a picture of them, running from the boys who want to know our names, who offer us tea and hash and massages if we follow them home.

 


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The fog swallows us, bodies brushing past, nudging us with the tide, collecting us around a Moroccan comedian. Cackles erupt from the crowd around him as he balances on a wooden stool with candles at his feet, telling stories in Arabic, guiding his hands like a conductor. He is a wizard in his brown robes, gray tangled beard enmeshed in a giant nest beneath his pointed cloak, mesmerizing me with his hands. I hardly notice the wall of Moroccan men closing in on us, descending from the shadows, faced cloaked beneath caps and hoods.


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We’re forced closer, pressed in between bodies, faces trapped beneath the bobbing heads, all hands and no “hello.” I can’t escape, entombed in the sweat and stench of the men that barricade us with their bodies. I turn around and we slap them away, disgusted but triumphant, shuffling away from the indifferent masses, running from the fog, the solicitors, the people that want my money, the donkeys that don’t care if they stampede over us, running to be free, to zoom and to float, not as a genie or on a magic carpet, but down cobble-stone corridors, empty except for stray kittens that peek out beneath pieces of cardboard, beneath arches that take us further from the chaos, escaping the food smells, the squirming hands, the shouts.


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But even down our course of escape, tangled as it was, weaving beneath low hanging arches and around narrow stone corners, dodging the games of children kicking a red ball back and forth—we never escape that knotted, serpentine Arabic melody of the charmer’s flute, deafened only when the night ends.

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Exploring the Jemaa el-Fna Market in Marrakesh (Marrakech), Morocco


Haven’t satisfied your Marrakesh thirst yet? Check out this post on traveling from Fes to Marrakesh!


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Have you been anywhere with as much energy as the Jemaa el-Fna?

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Peri Dwyer Worrell
    May 10, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Vividly and exquisitely portrayed.

  • Reply
    Explorgasm
    May 14, 2016 at 3:58 am

    Nice pics!

  • Reply
    My Speedy Boarding
    May 17, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    very nice!

  • Reply
    Andrew
    May 21, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Great post, the square is quite a place isn’t it?

  • Reply
    lightravellerkate
    May 21, 2016 at 11:42 pm

    Wow what an experience ! Thanks for liking my post

  • Reply
    Caroline
    May 22, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Love the poetic prose!

  • Reply
    sudersansrini
    May 25, 2016 at 2:51 am

    whoa!!!! you ve got your way with words!!!!!
    so poetic, and you might actually teleport the reader to Marrakech!!!!
    cheers!

  • Reply
    wal
    June 5, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Nice writing… enjoyed it.

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      June 5, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      Thank you, glad to hear from a fellow traveler!

      • Reply
        Amberly
        June 25, 2016 at 2:32 pm

        That’s the best answer by far! Thanks for conritbuting.

  • Reply
    George Bush
    June 7, 2016 at 2:48 am

    Dis good website. Many piktures of stuff I like to see. G-d bless merica

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      June 7, 2016 at 7:35 am

      Hahahaha, yes, thank you G. Bush.

  • Reply
    Sue
    July 22, 2016 at 5:12 am

    Wow! Beautiful blog and wonderful post!

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      July 22, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Thanks a million, Sue!

  • Reply
    coral waight
    September 3, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Terrific story.

  • Reply
    Surviving Marrakesh - MVMT Blog
    October 20, 2016 at 1:55 am

    […] JEMAA EL-FNA MARKET IN MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: THE SQUARE THAT ASSAULTS EVERY SENSE […]

  • Reply
    Female Travel in Morocco - Eternal Arrival
    November 12, 2016 at 10:16 am

    […] If you’re traveling alone, I would recommend sticking to Morocco’s Northern area (Tangier and Chefchaouen – although I’ve heard lovely things about Tetouan as well) and perhaps trying out the coastline. Essaouira is supposed to be lovely and I wish I had chosen it over Fes, although that would have made traveling north from the Sahara desert difficult. There was something about Fes that just didn’t feel safe, so I wouldn’t recommend it to an inexperienced solo female traveler. Be prepared for the chaos of Marrakech if you go as well, and for the love of God, stay far, far away from the monkey photo guys and the henna ladies in Jemaa El-Fna! […]

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