Jemaa el-Fna Square, one of the most folkloric places in the world.
There are places and things in this world which just need to be seen, without being compared to anything else. Lost City of Petra, Ganjes in Varanasi, Salt Extractors at the Pink Lake in Dakar, Leather workers at the Chouara Tannery in Fez, and Jemaa el-Fna Square in Marrakesh are certainly among the places that hit me particularly for how deeply they express culture, without change since they were born.
These are places which promote and safeguard traditions. Places where tourists must stay a bit unnoticed trying not to spoil the originality of the place.
I know, that is definitely pretty hard.
It’s time for Jemaa el-Fna Square (also Jemaa el-Fna, Djema el-Fna or Djemaa el-Fnaa) today!
What is Jemaa el-Fna Square? Jemaa el-Fna is a square which has been, from the founding of the city of Marrakesh, the main gathering place where markets, cultural events, and justice (hanging and decapitation) were held.
Even today it represents the heart of the city of Marrakesh. One of the most surprising things of Jemaa el-Fna Square is that despite many years having passed, there is still a strong continuity with the reason for which it was born. I mean, it still continues to be a very strong reference point for the locals. It serves the community as a vibrant hub for trade, social life, and cultural expression.
This is why everyone visiting Marrakesh, in some way, at some point of their vacation, comes to Jemaa el-Fna Square.
Are you road tripping in Morocco?
The first time I went to Jemaa el-Fna Square, I was travelling with Katrina, a friend of mine. We were road-tripping in Morocco by car and Marrakesh was one of the funniest stops of our road trip in Morocco. Even though Google maps worked perfectly in Morocco, we had a weird experience that day when we tried to follow it in order to reach Jemaa el-Fna Square. It did not report the pedestrian area, so it took us inside the medina (the city centre) where cars are not allowed. So, imagine what happened when they saw two girls driving a car where it is not allowed at all!
This is to tell you that if you are road tripping in Morocco, what you can do is leave your car right at the entrance of the medina just after the old city’s wall. Otherwise, you can leave it outside out of the medina.
The second time, I didn’t rent a car in Marrakesh, so I travelled from the Menara airport to the medina by taxi. The driver dropped us close to the wall and from there we walked to our Riad in Marrakesh. To date this is what everyone has to do unless you hire a donkey cart or a scooter from the locals to reach your hotel if it is inside the Medina. Which I think would be really fun, but I have seen no tourists doing so.
What is Jemaa el-Fna Square like today?
Jemaa el-Fna Square is a traditional North African market that sells anything: from food to spices, from carpets to lanterns, from dresses to wood works, from creams to beauty products, from traditional medicines to snails. Well, things that you can’t even imagine simply because as a tourist, they are not part of your life.
The sellers’ stalls are not the only thing that make Jemaa el-Fna Square attractive. What makes this place even more folkloric, is the infinite number of buskers who feed the joy of the people. Not only for the tourists, but mainly for the locals. Here you will see snake charmers, henna ladies, guys with monkeys and hens, and whatever…
Due to its important role in cultural exchange and artistic heritage, Jeema El Fna Square together with the beautiful medina of Marrakech are listed and classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, and in 2001 the place was proclaimed to be an oral and intangible heritage of Humanity.
Jemaa el-Fna square opening hours.
Now, if you’re asking at what time the Jemaa el-Fna square opens, well that is a good question. The square is open daily, and things typically get going at around 8 a.m. But, unlike all the other markets we heard of, Jemaa el-Fna Square doesn’t really kick off until sunset. The big square in fact begins to get lively when the sun starts to set. At that time of day, they start to put up many more stalls. And it remains full of life until late night. With an infinite number of food stalls, buskers busy reciting, musicians singing local music, many people start to gather at Jemaa el-Fna square at sunset. You will see families with kids, ladies with and without veils, men and seniors of all ages.
It is really nice to see the way Jemaa el-Fna square welcomes everyone. Once there, it seems like they all are part of one rhythm. It looks like a big feast which takes place every day where everyone seems to know each other.
There are some rooftop cafes and restaurants here where you can sit on the patio and have a cup of Moroccan mint tea at sunset while watching the locals put up theirs stalls for the night market.
Tourist scam at Jeema El Fna Square.
The first time I went to Marrakech, Morocco was not that touristy, so I had the great opportunity to experience the genuineness of the country. But, day by day, it became overvisited. And Marrakech, together with the city Fez, has become one of the most popular destinations in Morocco in a very short period of time.
This has meant that locals started to take advantage of the tourists, even in an inelegant way. Jemaa el-Fna Square is, of course, a clear example!
Being the most popular tourist attraction in Marrakech, Jemaa el Fna night market is very crowded, and locals try to cheat you somehow. This concept is to be kept in mind always. If you forget this even for a moment, well, this is when you will be fooled.
- When they see the tourist disoriented or confused, they will go and ask what they are trying to do or where they are trying to go. Whatever the tourist says,the answer is “oh no, you are going on a wrong way. Come follow me I’ll help you.” Obviously, the scammer is not going to guide you to your place. It’s just a technique to take the tourist to a shop or restaurant where they will get a commission if the tourist buys something.
- If you ever eat at the food stalls of Jemaa El Fna Square, remember to keep the items you order well marked with their respective prices. They will for sure try to cheat you and will charge you more! It’s a bad thing that happens, right? We ate at stall number 5 and they asked us to pay 460 Dirhams for unimaginable food that we never ordered. And so it was that we realized that it was better, in terms of cost, to eat in proper restaurants where the prices are basically the same or sometimes even less. However, eating at the stalls at Jemaa el-Fna Square is a unique experience and I always recommend visitors to try it at least once.
- Photography is a weird subject at Jemaa el-Fna Square. You pay from 5 to 10 Dirham for every single click, whether that is of a monkey or a person. They will run after you if you don’t pay. And, also they use a loud tone of voice to scare you if you refuse to pay. I heard recently that the prices have reached even 200 Dirham. This is horrible. I mean, no offense, but ew.
- Beware of fake products, especially if they are packed products such as creams. Let me explain it better. During my first time in Morocco, I bought two packs of Argan cream in Fez for 30 Dirham each. Later, during the same trip, I found some for 10 Dirham at Jemaa el-Fna Square. So, I bought two more of them in Marrakesh. I loved that cream so years later when I went back to Marrakesh I searched for that cream. I found the same exact package which, however, cost five times more. Even though it was expensive, I decided to buy six for 50 Dirham each since the cream was of an excellent quality. Only when I came home did I realize that some of them were wax.
- There are countless fake guides in Marrakech, and you will find plenty of them in Jemaa el-Fna Square. They offer to take you to see the sights or go shopping to hidden places around the medina. My friend Katrina and I tried one of them once and actually he took us to one of the most beautiful areas where otherwise we wouldn’t have gone. But if you are sceptical, then ask at your hotel for a good guide.
Yes, you have to learn a little bit to handle these situations. Otherwise, you will go home with a very bad memory of this place. Please don’t let this put you off.
Just be careful and enjoy the cultural side of Jemaa El-Fna Square. It is definitely one of the most epic things to do in Marrakesh!
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