Jemaa el-Fnaa & Souks

The Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. It has been described as a “world-famous square”, “a metaphorical urban icon, a bridge between the past and the present, the place where (spectacularized) Moroccan tradition encounters modernity.” It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The name roughly means “the assembly of trespassers” or malefactors. Jemaa el-Fnaa was renovated along with much of the Marrakech city, whose walls were extended by Abu Yaqub Yusuf and particularly by Yaqub al-Mansur in 1147–1158. The surrounding mosque, palace, hospital, parade ground and gardens around the edges of the marketplace were also overhauled, and the Kasbah was fortified. Subsequently, with the fluctuating fortunes of the city, Jemaa el-Fnaa saw periods of decline and renewal. Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history. The square attracted tradesmen, snake charmers (“wild, dark, frenzied men with long disheveled hair falling over their naked shoulders”), dancing boys of the Chleuh Atlas tribe, and musicians playing pipes, tambourines and African drums. Richard Hamilton said that Jemaa el-Fnaa once “reeked of Berber particularism, of backward-looking, ill-educated countrymen, rather than the reformist, pan-Arab internationalism and command economy that were the imagined future.” Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists, pickpockets, and entertainers in medieval garb still populate the square.

Marrakesh has the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco and the image of the city is closely associated with its souks. Paul Sullivan cites the souks as the principal shopping attraction in the city: “A honeycomb of intricately connected alleyways, this fundamental section of the old city is a micro-medina in itself, comprising a dizzying number of stalls and shops that range from itsy kiosks no bigger than an elf’s wardrobe to scruffy store-fronts that morph into glittering Aladdin’s Caves once you’re inside.” Historically the souks of Marrakesh were divided into retail areas for particular goods such as leather, carpets, metalwork and pottery. These divisions still roughly exist but with significant overlap. Many of the souks sell items like carpets and rugs, traditional Muslim attire, leather bags, and lanterns. Haggling is still a very important part of trade in the souks.

One of the largest souks is Souk Semmarine, which sells everything from brightly coloured bejewelled sandals and slippers and leather pouffes to jewellery and kaftans. Souk Ableuh contains stalls which specialize in lemons, chilis, capers, pickles, green, red, and black olives, and mint, a common ingredient of Moroccan cuisine and tea. Similarly, Souk Kchacha specializes in dried fruit and nuts, including dates, figs, walnuts, cashews and apricots. Rahba Qedima contains stalls selling hand-woven baskets, natural perfumes, knitted hats, scarves, tee shirts, Ramadan tea, ginseng, and alligator and iguana skins. Criee Berbiere, to the northeast of this market, is noted for its dark Berber carpets and rugs. Souk Siyyaghin is known for its jewellery, and Souk Smata nearby is noted for its extensive collection of babouches and belts. Souk Cherratine specializes in leatherware, and Souk Belaarif sells modern consumer goods. Souk Haddadine specializes in ironware and lanterns.

Ensemble Artisanal is a government-run complex of small arts and crafts which offers a range of leather goods, textiles and carpets. Young apprentices are taught a range of crafts in the workshop at the back of this complex.

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