Jamaa el Fna is a square and market place in Marrakesh's medina quarter (old city). The origin of its name is unclear: Jemaa means "congregational mosque" in Arabic, probably referring to a destroyed Almoravid mosque. "Fanâ" or "finâ" can mean "death" or "a courtyard, space in front of a building." Thus one meaning could be "the mosque or assembly of death," or "The Mosque at the End of the World". A more likely explanation is that it refers to a mosque with a distinctive courtyard or square in front of it.
The place remains the main square of Marrakesh, used equally by locals and tourists. During the day it is predominantly occupied by orange juice stalls, youths with chained Barbary apes, water sellers in colourful costumes with traditional leather water-bags and brass cups, and snake charmers who will pose for photographs for tourists. As the day progresses the entertainments on offer change: the snake charmers depart, and in the afternoon and evening the square becomes more crowded, with Chleuh dancing-boys (it would be against custom for girls to provide such an entertainment), story-tellers (telling their tales in Berber or Arabic, to an audience of appreciative locals), magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines. As dark descends the square fills with dozens of food-stalls, and the crowds are at their height.
The square is edged along one side by the Marrakesh souk, the traditional North African markets which service both the common daily needs of the people of the city, and the tourist trade. On other sides are cafe terraces to escape from the noise and confusion down in the square, and on yet other sides are hotels and gardens. Narrow streets lead into the alleys of the medina quarter, the old city. The photograph illustrating this article shows the entrance to the souk at the left, cafes in the centre, and the entrance to the medina via the Street of the Olive (derb al zitoun) on the right.
Once a bus station, the place was closed to vehicle traffic in the early 2000s. The authorities are well aware of its importance to the tourist trade, and a strong but discreet police presence ensures the safety of visitors.
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