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Supplement to newsletter 24 - sent on the 9 April 2019
Experience Marrakech's Djemaa el Fna!
Arguably the most atmospheric place on this trip is the Djemaa el Fna square in the heart of the medina in the stunning city of Marrakech. Many places are called 'an assault on the senses' but the Djemaa el Fna truly is! It is also just a few hours from the UK and the most crazy place that you can reach on Easyjet! Quite literally like walking back in time, the Djemaa el Fna is like the classic North African squares that you see in films.
The first thing that you will notice as you enter the square is the loud sound of frenzied African drumming that echoes from the surrounding walls. This is accompanying the Gnaoua dancers who gyrate frenetically to the strains of clattering castanets, rotating their necks so that their tasseled hats twirl around their heads.
Inside of the square you will find snake-charmers with Egyptian Cobras and sluggish Puff Adders, who will chase after you trying to place a python around your neck for the ultimate selfie. Youths with dragged chained Barbary Apes around, and traditional red-dressed water-sellers with brass cups around their necks strut around, with entreaties to take their portrait. You will find atmospherically fake dentists, henna painters and amidst quack medicine peddlers selling everything from tortoise shells to herbs.
The Djemaa el Fna can be hot in the middle of the day. But luckily there are a number of cafes and restaurants around the edges, and you will find plenty of stalls selling freshly-squeezed orange juice for next to nothing.
The square is also the gateway to the sprawling souks of Marrakech, so in the heat of the day you can opt to stroll through the seemingly endless covered passageways, and spend the hottest hours of the day exploring, shopping and most importantly haggling over a variety of goods, from homewares to clothing, and footwear to jewellery.
The Djemaa el Fna is at its most atmospheric in the last afternoon, as the sunlight cuts low across the square from the great minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, casting great shadows, and backlighting the lotions and potions in the medicine market on the edge of the square. By this time the heat has dropped and the touts and entertainers who are there to prey on the tourists seem to be working themselves into a frenzy, before they knock off around sunset.
Towards the night, the square changes, becoming less of a tourist hangout, and the entertainment is aimed more towards the locals. Thankfully the snake-charmers and the ape tormentors disappear; replaced by acrobats, Berber story-tellers and even boxing matches where nervous looking boys battle each other within the circle of a cheering crowd.
Most importantly, a massive food market is set up on the square, with a variety of stalls selling everything from cooked sausages to roast sheep's heads! Many of these are cooked over barbecues, and the smoke and steam hang atmospherically over the food stalls as the sun sets over the square. Depending on the season, the food stalls can spread over much of the square, offering a variety of foods that are eaten at communal tables lined with benches.
You could spend a lifetime photographing in and around the Djemaa el Fna. Many people there - from the water-sellers to the snake charmers and the dancers – are happy to pose for pictures for a few dirhams. Not my favoured method of photography, but it means that you can get some incredibly evocative portraits with a raft of local colour – even if you are a little shy at approaching people.
There are some great options for night photography here too. The rooftops of many of the cafes overlooking the square provide a perfect platform for photographing the square at sunset, and through into the night.
Impressions of Morocco departs from Marrakech on the 19 September 2019 for 10 days, and costs from £1495 per person based on twinshare. To see more of the amazing places that we visit on this exciting photography tour, you can see the full itinerary here, or if you want to snap up one of the final three places on this trip, you can find the booking form here.