Djmaa el Fna

Djmaa el Fna (also known as Jamaa el Fna)

Among the most popular marketplaces in the Arabian countries is the name that comes to our mind is Djmaa el Fna which is also known as Jamaa el Fna. It is also pronounced as Jemaa el Fnaa or Djema el Fna or Djemaa el Fnaa. Whatever the pronunciation is, it is a square and marketplace in Marrakesh medina quarter which is an old city. It remains the main square of Marrakesh, used by locals and tourists. The famous Almoravids founded the city Marrakesh in between 1070-1072. The city was crumbling down to the Almohads in 1147 after a destructive struggle. It followed in the renovation of Jamaa el Fna along with much of the city. The extension of the city walls were done by Abou Yacoub Youssef and Yacoub el Mansour in particular in the span of 1147-1158. The builders overhauled the surrounding mosque, palace, hospital, parade ground and gardens around the edges of the marketplace with a view to fortify the Kasbah.

Subsequently Jamaa el Fna passed through a period of decline and renewal with the fortunes of the city. What predominantly appear in the marketplace are orange-juice stalls, youths with chained Barbary apes, water-sellers in colorful costumes with traditional leather water-bags and brass caps, and snake-charmers posing with vipers and cobras for tourists cameras. But the entertainments change their colour with the advancement of the day as the snake charmers depart. Later in the day the square becomes crowded with Chleuh dancing boys as customs forbid that girls should appear to provide such an entertainment. There also appear story-tellers who tell their tales in Berber or Arabic, magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines. With the falling of darkness, the square gets filled up with numberless food stalls as the number of visitors goes up. Then push carts are moved into the plaza by gangs of white smocked Moroccan restaurant workers.

The heavy laden carts are turned into brightly lit outdoor restaurants offering up a delightful array of fresh vegetables, grilled meats, and raucous entertainment. The throngs of nocturnal entertainers arrive to enliven the atmosphere. There also appear henna artists who weave their art quicker than a bird in flight, fortune-tellers, hucksters and tribal witch doctors offering herbal remedies, love potions and traditional medicines from blanket shops arranged along with the periphery. Few people are aware of the origin of this most famous location in Marrakech. The Arabic meaning of the name is the Assembly of the Dead which could refer to a long lost Almoravid mosque that might have been standing on the spot once upon a time. There is also an indication that the name of the plaza is associated with grizzly executions that might have once been carried out there. Despite all the horrible stories associated with its name, Djmaa el Fna today reverberates with life. It is ringed on one side by the souks of Marrakech while there are cafes, gardens and hotels on the other.

There is always a myriad of locals and tourists contributing to the vast panorama of life there. 31 Djmaa el Fna turns into a dreamlike scene of nearly medieval scope with the gradual progress of the day. With the falling of night on the plaza, the cacophony of numberless voices, drums, and reed flutes combine with the smoke of the grills to blanket Djmaa el Fna in a haze of noise and mist that seems to blur any sense of reality. The food that is sold from over a hundred stalls on the plaza is of course the chief attraction there. It is advisable for any visitor to select a booth where he can have freshly baked bread served to him along with his personal selection of olives, salads and meats. In short, the pageantry and the spectacle add together to make Djmaa el Fna the most attractive of all plazas in the world.