Saturday, October 29, 2011

Djemaa El Fna. ساحة جامع الفناء

Djemma el-Fna ("jemma-el-fahnah") is the main square in Marrakesh.

The origin of the square's name is still debated today, centuries after the square was built.  I have seen it commonly translated as "Gathering Place of the Dead".  I've also read an interpretation based on breaking down the words into their Arabic origins -  "djemma"  being related to the Arabic jami which is the word for mosque and either fana which means annihilation or extinction or fina which means courtyard or open space.  Put together, the name of the square translates to "The Mosque of Death," or "The Mosque at the End of the World".  However the name is translated, it doesn't sound like a place that any tourist would want to go to but it nothing could be further from the truth.  UNESCO recognized the uniqueness of Djemma el-Fna by inscribing it on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

The square is edged along one side by the Marrakesh souk, a traditional North African market catering both for the common daily needs of the locals, and for the tourist trade. On other sides are cafés and restaurants that have upper terraces that offer great vantage points to watch  the activity taking place in the square below.  I read that two of the best places to be are the Café Glacier, which is above the Hotel CTM, with its sweeping, 270-degree view from the roof and nearby the Café de France.  Will definitely plan on taking a *coffee break* or two :-)

Off the square are narrow streets that lead into the alleys of the medina, the old Arab section.

Koutoubia Mosque, is located nearby. It is said that the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque is to Marrakesh as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.  At night, the mosque is beautifully lit.

"My kind of square"Djemma el-Fna is the gathering place in Marrakesh and I've been hard at work trying to find a riad close by for us to stay in.  I have a feeling we'll be making many a visit to this place.

By all accounts, the square is a pretty ho-hum place during the day though there is plenty of  entertainment for the tourists in the form of men with chained Barbary apes, water sellers in colourful costumes with traditional leather water-bags and brass cups, and snake charmers.   I'm not sure about seeing chained apes but I definitely want to see the snake charmers though I've read that it costs a few dirhams to have them drape a snake on you and even more dirhams to have the snake removed.  Yikes!  Oddly enough too, dentists are apparently very common during the day.  Need a tooth pulled?  Come to Djemma el-Fna. 

As the day progresses, the entertainment  changes: the snake charmers depart, and late in the day the square becomes more crowded. That's when the story-tellers, fortune tellers, magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines appear.  You can also get a henna tattoo.  How cool is that?

"As darkness falls" At night, the square comes to life filling with dozens of food stalls.  Now we're talking my language!  I'm dying to try Moroccan street food and I'm sure I'll have it in the other places that we'll have visited before arriving to Marrakesh but I don't know that any of them will have the same atmosphere as Djemma el-Fna.

I can already imagine the intoxicating smell of grilled meats wafting through the air.  I will be a very happy foodie here!

If the night is cool, this would be a perfect place for a bowl of harira, which is the iconic soup of Morocco.  I've never tasted it before so I'm dying to try it.

" Moroccan street food"At Djemma el-Fna's food stalls, we'll get to sample Moroccan street food: spicy merguez sausages, deep-fried eels, lentil soup, grilled brochettes, snails, warm chickpea salads, freshly squeezed orange juice – all for a handful of coins. last Moroccan specialty - grilled sheep's head.  I'm sampling as much as I can though I'm not sure about my travel mates - not sure they're as adventurous eaters as I am.

I've read that we have to be very careful about eating in the square - not that the food is not properly prepared but apparently, the dishes, glasses and utensils aren't necessarily washed very well.....the usual swishing in a bucket of water.  Several forums I came across recommended asking for the food to be served on paper plates and to bring along a drink container that the vendor can put the juice in. I'm thinking I'm going to have everyone bring along a set of plastic utensils and a plastic water bottle.  Better to be safe than sorry.

I found this short video on line that gives a glimpse into Djemma el-Fna at night.  Can't wait to actually be there and experience it all.