My Marrakech: Djemaa el-Fnaa

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In an excerpt from the essay collection City Squares (edited by Catie Marron), a world-renowned architect recounts 24 hours in Djemaa el-Fnaa.

Located at the entrance to the old medina town, Djemaa el-Fnaa is the bustling heart of Marrakech, an artistic, commercial, and religious hub where tourists and locals alike engage with the rich and diverse heritage of the city’s distinctive culture. Few places on earth offer such a holistic sensory experience, where the scent of mint tea joins the competing sounds of mopeds and the rhythmic drumming of local musicians against a colorful palette of umbrellas from the nearby bazaar. Upon my first visit a decade ago, I was immediately struck by the seamless dance of activity across the span of a day: Local merchants selling fresh orange juice arrive at dawn, followed by garden merchants, lamp sellers, and musicians who arrive progressively throughout the day. By the afternoon, henna painters, medics, fortune-tellers, snake charmers, and storytellers enliven the square, attracting throngs of locals and tourists. The bustle of the square is punctuated by frequent calls to prayer from nearby mosques. The transition from day to night is particularly dramatic, with daytime merchants packing up and filing out in under an hour, replaced by rows of gas-lit food vendors whose charcoal-roasted kebabs or spicy harira soup send fragrant plumes of smoke into the air. Entertainers, from dancers to musicians to acrobats, lead the square to reach its busiest after dark, transforming the space into a thriving temporary village, which in turn is fully reinvented the following day. $33; harpercollins.com.