#DiscoverTheUndiscovered: With palm-fringed palaces, enchanting alleys and timeless architecture, Marrakesh is often considered the ultimate destination for a luxurious getaway. But the city is so much more than just a lavish escape. I was lucky to return to the wonderful place last year when I visited Jemaa el-Fna. By Nancy Lova
Marrakesh’s Jemaa el-Fna is nestled within the Medina quarter. A marketplace and main square, Jemaa el-Fna is an explosion on the senses right from the first glance—from warm smells of herbs and traditional street foods; to vibrant rugs, pashminas, shawls, and lanterns… For anyone visiting the main square for the first time, it may be a bit overwhelming. But wandering through the hustle-bustle, paired with the sea of market stalls and souks — you will end up uncovering many hidden gems, layers of culture, traditions, and history which make the city so special.
Walking into the market, I was welcomed by singers, and musicians playing the maracas, Doumbek drums and tambourines. I saw a group of lively dancers wearing djellabas, a traditional Moroccan dress worn by women and men, trying to get visitors to join in. I learnt that Marrakesh’s street theatre (halqa) and the hoopla have been performed here for 11 centuries! When it came to choosing what to buy from the mountains of herbs and spices (such as cumin, turmeric, saffron, and cinnamon) and heaps of dried flowers and plants (like rosebuds and mint), I was spoilt for choice.
For me, the hidden gem of Marrakesh was the food. When here, many shopkeepers and souk owners offer a glass of Berber Whiskey, their national drink, to visitors. A light-hearted reference to what we know as Moroccan Mint Tea, Berber Whiskey is sipped several times a day. In fact, it is traditional for guests to be offered this tea. To get the real taste of Moroccan flavours, a visit to the street stalls are a must. During my time there, traditional dishes such as lamb tagine, fish chermoula, and couscous enriched with warm and fragrant flavours, accompanied by chefs singing in either Arabic or English hymns, were served on a daily basis. My favourite discovery was the pastilla—a rich and delicious pie infused with aromatic layers of chicken, almonds, cinnamon, apricots and orange zest, wrapped in filo pastry and sprinkled with icing sugar.
Jemaa el-Fna was perfect for souvenir-shopping, and one popular takeaway that dominated the square were the lanterns complete with flames dancing in red, blue, or green glass. The brass lighting fixtures are a significant part of Morocco, and it is believed that they were presented during the Ottoman Empire and Arab conquests of the 8th Century.
Regardless of how many times I visit or when I visit, I will remain dazzled by the lights of Morocco. Every new discovery of the country continues to amaze me and makes Marrakesh so special.