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History of Jamaa el Fna


There is nowhere in Morocco like Jemaa el Fna square – no place that so easily involves you and keeps you coming back for more. By day, most of the square is just a large open space, where a handful of snake charmers bewitch their cobras with flutes, medicine men (especially in the northeastern part of the place) display cures and Panacea, and pulling teeth, wielding fearsome tongs, offer to tear off the pain of the outside of the heads of people suffering from toothache, trays of extracts attesting molar their skills.
It is only in the afternoon that the square really happens. At dusk, as in France and Spain, people go out for a walk early evening (especially in Bab Agnaou street), and the place fills gradually until it becomes a fairytale carnival, acrobats, musicians and artists. Go down and you will soon be immersed in the ritual: wandering around, squatting in the circles of spectators, which gives a dirham or two as your contribution. If you want a respite, you can move on the roof terraces, like the Grand Balcony Café, for a view of the square, its storytellers and musicians, and the crowds who come to see them.
As a foreigner in Jemâa, you may feel something of an intruder. Most of the crowd are Moroccan of course (some foreigners, for example, will include storytellers’ tales), but tourists also make a significant contribution to both the atmosphere and the cash flow. Sometimes a storyteller or musician may take it upon you to participate or contribute generously to the end-of-show collection and, entering the show, it’s best to go bare-bones of the usual tourist outlines such as watches, money belts or too much money; pickpockets and crooks work (giving a “present” and demanding payment as it is an old scam to be wary of, ask tourists to change counterfeit euro coins is a more recent version) .The crowd around the artists are sometimes used as an opportunity to grope foreign women, and by Moroccan men and homosexual male tourists for cruising.
Tourist attractions include bottle hoop games, fortune tellers sitting under umbrellas with divination card packs ready and women with piping bags full of henna paste, ready to paint their hands, feet or arms with “tattoos” that will last up to three months, beware if synthetic “black henna”, which contains a toxic chemical; that red henna is natural (Café Henné guarantees to use only natural henna)

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