A Walk around Jemaa el Fnaa

Located in the medina quarter (old city) it’s the main city for locals and tourists and has been a protected landmark since 1922. Etymologically the word into broken down into ‘Jemaa’ and ‘Fna’ or ‘Fina’. Jemaa meaning ‘congregation’ or ‘Mosque’ in Arabic, ‘Fna’ meaning ‘death’ or ‘extinction’ and ‘Fina’ meaning ‘open area’. A direct translation would mean ’congressional area’. A different interpretation has translation Jemaa el Fnaa as ‘The Mosque at the end of the World’ representing the public executions that would have taken place there. Founded in 1070, shortly after the city itself was founded, by Abu Bakr ibn Umar and the city was developed by his successors. 

But now for a wonder round...

Stroll Djemaa as it wakes up to catch the plaza at its least frenetic. At this point, the stage is almost empty. Orange juice vendors are first on the scene, along with the snake charmers and their baskets of cobras, traditional leather water bags and brass cups, youths with chained Barbary Apes and snake charmers despite the protected status of these species under Moroccan law. Eager dentists, potion sellers and henna-tattoo artists start setting up makeshift stalls under sunshades. Cars are banned from the square after 2 pm, and local food stalls start setting up for the nightly dinner scrum around 4 pm. At sunset, Djemaa finds its daily mojo as Amazigh (Berber) troupes and gnaoua musicians start tuning up and locals pour into the square. The hullabaloo doesn’t knock off for the night until around 1 pm. To see the square from a different perspective, head to one of the rooftop cafes ringing the square. Spicy snail broth, skewered hearts, bubbling tajines, flash-fried fish: the Djemma food stalls are a heaving one-stop-shop for Moroccan culinary specialities, and they're not to be missed. Despite alarmist warnings, your stomach should be fine. Clean your hands before eating, use bread instead of utensils and stick to filtered water. Stalls have numbered spots and are set up on a grid. The snail chefs are in a line on the eastern side. For fried fish and calamari, pull up a pew at stall 14. Look for a lovely woman named Aicha who runs stall 1 in the southwestern corner for brochettes (kebabs), tajines and harira (a cheap, hearty soup made of tomatoes, onions, saffron and coriander with lentils and chickpeas). After dinner, join locals at the row of copper tea urns on the southern edge of the stalls. The speciality here is warming ginger tea called khoudenjal with cinnamon, mace and cardamom, served with a dense, sticky and similarly spicy scoop of cake. A pit stop at No 71 Chez Mohammed's is the perfect way to round out your meal.