When planning a trip away, searching for exciting things to fill your evenings is often a first priority. However, in Marrakesh this is really not necessary as when night time falls, there is one option that outweighs them all; a form of entertainment open to everyone, guaranteed every night, and always exciting and authentic, which can be found by just heading out into Marrakesh’s main square, Place Djemaa el fna, after sunset.
Ironically, The name Djemaa el fna actually means “Assembly of the Dead”, which is believed to be due to an ancient mosque that was once in existence, now destroyed and buried away deep under the square’s ground. The square is nowadays the antithesis of what its name describes; an open air theatre overwhelming with vitality of the eclectic performers, who vary from astrologers to belly dancers, as well as the crowds of expectant spectators.
What first strikes you about the evening crowds in that despite the huge number of tourists meandering around the square, the evening is alive with a real feel of Moroccan culture and local character, as local families, couples and friends gather together to take part in the entertainment, watch a show, or have a bite to eat. As a visitor, it is not necessary to dig deep to uncover the cultural traditions that are at play in the Place. Energetic and dynamic acts fill every corner of the square, pulling in an audience to watch, and often take part. Snake charming is also to be found, with the charmers more than ready to wrap their cobra around a tourist’s neck for an impressive holiday snap. For those of wanting a bit of a nighttime rhythm, whirling drumming shows, and acrobats always make for an impressive commotion. After such a spectacle, you can wonder among the little stalls, maybe even pick up something from one of the many apothecaries and alchemists who are selling miracle cures for every ailment, from ageing to a broken heart.
Although a little more subtle than the drumming and performing attractions of the square, a truly magical way to pass an evening is by tracking down the storytellers that reside in the square; the old men who tell ancient Moroccan stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. Known as the ‘halaka’, these bearded men, often with a few teeth missing can be found sitting down, encircled by a mesmerized crowd of onlookers. Not just used as a form of entertainment, the great oral tradition is an ancient way of conveying philosophies, parables and timeless values, told by these men with a sincerity and conviction which is truly spellbinding.