There’s nowhere on Earth like the Jemaa el Fna, the square at the heart of old Marrakesh. The focus of the evening promenade for locals, the Jemaa is a heady blend of alfresco food bazaar and street theatre: for as long as you’re in town, you’ll want to come back here again and again.
Goings-on in the square by day merely hint at the evening’s spectacle. Breeze through and you’ll stumble upon a few snake charmers, tooth pullers and medicine men plying their trade, while henna tattooists offer to paint your hands with a traditional design. In case you’re thirsty, water sellers dressed in gaudy costumes – complete with enormous bright red hats – vie for your custom alongside a line of stalls offering orange and grapefruit juice, pressed on the spot. Around dusk, however, you’ll find yourself swept up in a pulsating circus of performers. There are acrobats from the Atlas Mountains, dancers in drag and musicians from a religious brotherhood called the Gnaoua, chanting and beating out rhythms late into the night with their clanging iron castanets. Other groups play Moroccan folk music, while storytellers, heirs to an ancient tradition, draw raucous crowds to hear their tales.
In their midst dozens of food stalls are set up, lit by gas lanterns and surrounded by delicious-smelling plumes of cooking smoke. Here you can partake of spicy harira soup, try charcoal-roasted kebabs or merguez sausage, or, if you’re really adventurous (and hungry), a whole sheep’s head, including the eyes – all beneath the looming presence of the floodlit, perfectly proportioned Koutoubia minaret to the west, making a backdrop without compare.
The rooftop terraces of the Café de France and Restaurant Argana afford great views over the Jemaa el Fna. Be aware that pickpockets operate in the square; usual cautions apply.