Posted: 1/4/2007


   Of all the squares, in all the cities, in all the lands that I have visited there is one that is exceptional and in a class of its own. DJEMAA EL FNA ' The Mosque of Nothing' in its literal translation.  I have been to Red Square, Trafalgar Square, Piazza San Marco, The Zocalo, Times Square and many more, but this takes the camels whiskers.

Marrakesh is more a Berber city than an Arab one, in the shadows of the High Atlas mountains, with The Medina and Souks of the old city plus the more modern French built area, with its wide Avenue Mohammed V, lined with orange trees, spacious boulevards and traffic circles with fountains.  However, the Djemaa El Fna is where the action is. I am housed in a room in a hotel overlooking the square with a shady courtyard and a rooftop restaurant where I sip Berber Whisky - mint tea, and watch the action below, while listening to the call to prayer five times a day from the nearby mosque. It set me back 11 dollars a night, but I am paying that much for the view, and there are cheaper deals not far away. I had flown into the modern airport on a 4 hour flight from Manchester for an incredible 20 dollars plus taxes.

Walking out onto the square, which is really an L shaped configeration, you are immediately immersed in the show. Surrounding the square are carts selling fresh squeezed orange juice, hot roasted nuts, 20 types of dates. During the day there are dentists sitting cross legged witha carpet piled with molars and false dentures and willing to pull a tooth. Scribes for those who can't read, to translate, to fill in government forms, to read letters and dictate them from relatives abroad.  Snake charmers play short flutes and wave them in front of cobras, and their helpers walk up to tourists to place the snakes around their necks for photo opportunities. Of course, snakes don't have ears, so react to movements not sound, but you knew that, didn't you.  Monkeys on leads hop onto your head and pose for  photos, boys are boxing surrounded by a crowd, Blue Men of the Sahara with skin dyed by their blue cloth, clowns and acrobats from Tazarouah, street barbers, water sellars with their colourful garb ....

Huge crowds, mostly Moroccans with their kids, and maybe 5 per cent tourists.  Women in long black dresses and faces covered with veils and lots of jewelry dance exotically. There are lots of women attracting customers for Henna tattoos. Henna is a shrub whose leaves have been used for 11 millenium for hair dyes and shampoo. It is mixed with lemon juice and applied in intricate filligree patterns to womens hands, ankles and feet in a dark brown paste  and lasts from a couple of weeks to a couple of months or so.  In the evenings rows upon rows of food stalls and benches for seating are set up in the middle for thousands of hungry diners. One row specializes in sheeps heads. I was reluctently dragged towards a stall and shown the brains, sheeps eyes and other delicacies - I cant mention in mixed company of readers. Another row specialises in stewed snails, 5 Dh for a small bowl,10 Dh for a large one, about 50 cents and one dollar. Yet another row offers Moroccan couscous or Tanjine which is my favourite. Its a clay pot full of hot potatoes, carrots, beans, olives, legumes and lamb or other meat and also vegetarian only. Starting with an omelette, then the tanjine, then a plate of petit sweet tiny pastries with almonds, nuts, and other fillings, plus a bottle of water for 50 dh, about 5-6 dollars. Other stalls sold Mergioez sausages, fried fish, spiced cakes, Moroccan soups , ginsing,

I always enjoy the story tellers who attract large crowds that they enthrall. I cant understand a word, but their passion and showmanship interests me. There was a guy with a straw basket of prancing tarantulas that crawl about his face, and hawkers offering patent medicines from the ground up horns and other parts of antelope, tortoises, squirrels, sheep and whatever.  Lots of groups of varied musicians- the Aissaoura playing skin covered ginbris; Andalous groups with ghaitah obos and violins, Gnaid faith healers with drums and cymbos. You can buy cassettes of the various music and lots of stalls.

 Morocco has a new king, more openess,  an agreement with the United Nations over the disputed Western Sahara, an discount airline flights. Come over and enjoy. to be continued....