Place Djemaa el-Fna – Marrakech, Morocco

An Impromptu Circus Where the Curtain Goes Up at Sunset

According to Paul Bowies, a Moroccan at heart, Marrakech without the huge Djemaa el-Fna would be just another Moroccan city. This is where it all happens, an impromptu medieval circus enacted around the clock.

The snake charmers, performing monkeys, and souvenir sellers may be there for the for­eigners, but the dentists, barbers, storytellers, acrobats forming human pyramids, cart­wheeling dancers, and scribes writing wills and bills are surrounded by small crowds of locals.

From the countless food stalls, aromas of sizzling kebabs, couscous, and sheep brains cooked in their own skulls fill the square. Maybe fresh-squeezed orange juice will do. Dusk is the bewitching hour, when lanterns around the square are lit, the cast of fire swallowers, healers, shoe shiners, and soothsayers reaches a climax, and the Place Djemaa crawls with humanity well into the night.

A number of outdoor rooftop cafes ring the square, where you can take in the colorful scenario at a distance with a glass of sugared mint tea. Could this have been the very spot that Winston Churchill had in mind when he advised, “If you have only one day to spend in Morocco, spend it in Marrakech”?

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