A drink in Marrakech

The souk of Marrakech is a huge sprawling, hot, dusty and confusing place. It is a fantastic web of little streets and alleyways where each shop seems to only be 1m wide and every inch of the inside is covered in merchandise. We saw shops selling metal-work, leather, jewellery, random electronics, clothes, shoes and food. There was so much going on in the souk that after a frantic morning exploring it my friend and I felt the need to seek out some peace and we settled in a cafe high above Marrakech’s main square for a drink and a bit of people-watching.

The main square is called Place Djema el Fna and is a wide open expanse stretching from the Koutoubia Mosque to the outskirts of the never ending souk. There are restaurants, cafes and shops. It is the centre of activity in the town and everyone, locals and tourists alike, passes through at some time or another. We sat on the balcony, ordered sweet moroccan tea and fresh local orange juice and took in the scene. 

Place Djema El Fna, Marrakech, Morocco

Beneath us were several food stalls and tables set up on the square, ready for the breaking of the fast at iftar. (We happened to have traveled to Morocco during ramadan) Amongst them were several large wooden carts selling various things. There was a cart of dried fruit and nuts. There were a few impossibly loaded with big juicy looking oranges and another covered in bunches of every fresh herb imaginable. The fresh zingy smell was amazing and definitely a delight compared to some of the other smells which had ambushed our nostrils during the morning. Street-sellers lurk around every dusty pink corner in Marrakech’s old town. Often they are old men or women in burkas sitting on the floor with their wares laid out before them on pieces of newspaper on the ground, making it imperative that you watch where you put your feet. Our morning had revealed tomatoes, eggs, strangely small and round aubergines, fish, sheep brains and blanched intestines on offer. I’m sure you can imagine, considering those offerings, some of the smells that hit us even before we had turned certain corners.

Snake charmers on Place Djema El Fna, Marrakech, Morocco

The locals are well aware that the square is a big draw for tourists and so this is where the snake charmers spend their days. We watched as snake after snake emerged upright out of a basket on the ground. They wiggled slowly and entranced by the tunes played by their keepers on thin reedy recorders, to the delight of passing tourists. One snake stood at an angle. We had found the leaning snake of Marrakech we laughed. A figure appeared, distracting us from the snakes, as he thrust a monkey into the arms of a passing tourist. The brown furry monkey (with quite big teeth!) wore a collar and a leash which his keeper kept a firm grip of. Each initially surprised tourist seemed to warm to the monkey, while it’s owner encouraged companion travelers to take photos. Once photos were taken the monkey’s keeper chirped up asking for a few dirham and if no photos were taken, his monkey back as he needed to target his monkey ambush at someone else. Another group of people on the square were a few women offering henna tattoos. They were intricately decorated themselves with beautiful swirling patterns and flowers creeping over their hands and their forearms. There were not many women in business on the square, it was a very male-dominated environment, which had not come as a surprise to us. These women however seemed friendly but also had an ambush tactic of their own. We watched as they painted a little henna on anyone who showed any interest and then tried to coax that person into sitting for a longer session for more money, sometimes quite aggressively. Marrakech, we realised, was the home of the hard sell.

The call to prayer suddenly sounded from the Koutoubia mosque to the South West of the square and it seemed that all the chaos halted as most people hurried away to pray. The sound hung proudly and beautifully in the air. The call to prayer was hauntingly exotic to our ears. We sat in respectful silence contemplating the Place Djema el Fna and the afternoon ahead.


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