Images Of Africa Part 5: Jemaa el-Fnaa

The Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh is the beating heart of Northwest Africa, a vast open space that acts as highway, circus, restaurant, market and mosque for the thousands of locals and tourists who experience it every day. From dawn orange juice stands dominate, cars and bikes weaving between them while snake charmers and men with chained Barbary Apes wander seeking curious foreigners. At night the square undergoes a miraculous transformation as the juice stalls are dismantled to make way for an enormous open air restaurant. Countless grills and tents are erected in a matter of minutes every evening, and by the time darkness falls the air is thick with rising smoke as mountains of lamb and couscous are prepared. Mopeds are ubiquitous and stain the darkness with their lights.

While still vibrant it seemed to me that Jemaa el-Fnaa has lost a lot of its authenticity with the influx of tourists, and perhaps an argument could be made that the granting of UNESCO World Heritage status in this case had a negative impact on cultural preservation. There was an air of cynicism and melancholy that permeated the square I had not expected, and it saddened me.


moped light trails



2 comments on “Images Of Africa Part 5: Jemaa el-Fnaa

  1. Great post! I was in Marrakech last month, and I though the square was so exciting, but I was sad to see so many of the acts revolving around money grabbing and hustling instead of performance. Still an awesome cultural experience though, I guess everything good gets a little ruined by tourism in the end!

  2. It’s a really complicated issue. I mean I guess it could be argued that the sort of performances that we frown on (snake charmers, chained apes) have been going on for centuries and are not a development caused by Easyjet offering cheap flights. At the same time, there definitely does seem to be an element of cheapening that this recent wave of Western tourists has caused. Entertainers hustling foreigners is not exactly a modern phenomena! It’s quite possible that I’m being too cynical. Thanks for your comment!

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