Marrakech – back to the madness, Djemaa El Fna at night

First view of Djemma el Fna at night

First view of Djemma el Fna, Marrakech, at night

Djemaa el Fna Marrakech at night, the greatest free show on earth

After a relaxing day I decided to go back to Djemaa el Fna to see what the fuss was about ‘the square’ at night. I took a petit taxi from my hotel and, even before I saw it I heard the cacophony of drums, eerily wailing pipes and voices. The centre of the square was lit by the food stalls. The smoke from their fires rose up into the night and tempting smells from their wares drifted into the crowd. I was soon caught up in the throng and carried along.

Smoke and noise and the smell of cooking

Smoke and noise and the smell of cooking, Djemaa El Fna, Marrakech

The square was much noisier and more crowded than it had been during the day with groups of people, mainly locals, packed tightly round each different distraction. Every so often the crowd would part giving a glimpse of the spell binding performance within.  A pair of Gnaoua dancers twirled the tassels on their hats and leapt and swirled around me clicking their castanet like karkabas and beating their tbel side drums with big grins on their faces. How they kept the beat of the music at such a frantic dancing pace I will never know.

Carried along by the crowd

Djemaa El Fna, Marrakech – Carried along by the crowd

A game was taking place on the outskirts of the crowd that seemed to involve knocking down skittles made from old bottles with a ball on a string. The local boys were each paying to compete with each other and, like teenagers the world over, to prove their manhood by being the best. I watched enthralled until, with another movement of the crowd I was carried away. So much was going on that I was in danger of sensory overload. Each time the crowd moved aside there was a new delight to wonder at. Storytellers held their audience in the palm of their hand, magicians conjured objects from thin air, apothecaries, henna tattooists, fortune tellers, trinket sellers all peddled their wares.

imageJust when I thought my head would explode I found myself in front of the Café Argana. Gratefully I stepped up onto the terrace and sat at an empty table to get my breath and a glass of mint tea while watching the madness from a more comfortable vantage point. This café is ‘in’ the place to go, apart from the wooden terrace just of the street there is also a roof terrace with some of the best views of Djemaa el Fna. You can get coffee, mint tea or a meal, if you’re prepared to wait a while.

Next, I set off for Le Marrakchi restaurant http://www.lemarrakchi.com/, as recommended by Mohammed on my first visit to the square. I was led up a narrow and dimly lit flight of stairs to the top floor to find a panoramic view of the square. The room was as dimly lit as the stairs but my window side table had a charming little beaded tea light holder, casting just enough light to see the menu.

Looking down at the mayhem of Djemaa El Fna, Marrakech

Looking down at the mayhem and Koutoubia in the distance

Gazing out at the mayhem of the square below I enjoyed a tasty lamb tagine washed down with a superb rosé wine and served by an attentive waiter dressed all in black. The music was a kind of 21st century version of the Berber music I had heard up in the mountains. The atmosphere was romantic beyond belief and the bill very reasonable, so I made a note to come back with Commando as soon as I got the chance. To round off a wonderful evening I sipped a strong coffee while contemplating the hustle and bustle below. Suitably revived I finally plunged back into the crowded square for a second look at the ‘greatest free show on earth’ and mentally thanked Mohammed for persuading me that it was safe to come out alone at night.