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Jemaa El Fna, Medina, Marrakesh

Morocco 40000's insider take:

Jemaa El Fna, translated as the Square of the Dead, is the main open space in Marrakesh, and is as old as the city itself. Once the scene of public executions (back in the old days, no need to worry), it is now the city's cultural epicenter, thronged day and night with a carnival of local life, including snake charmers (a few dirhams for a photograph with a snake draped over your shoulders; a few more to have it removed); dentists (teeth pulled on the spot); scribes (letters written to order); herbalists (cures for everything and nothing); and beggars (to whom Moroccans give generously). In the evenings, the square becomes a venue for alfresco eating and entertainment of a bizarre nature with troupes of costumed acrobats, storytellers, magicians, transvestite dancers, and semimystical gnawa musicians attended by small knots of wild-eyed devotees giddy on the repetitive rhythms. Tourists are welcome to watch, but nothing here is staged for their benefit; this place is genuine.

Several cafés and restaurants have upper terraces with ringside seating from which to observe the mayhem of Jemaa El Fna. One of the best of the lot is Café Glacier, which is above the Hotel CTM, with its sweeping, 270-degree view from the roof; some people prefer the Café de France. Come at dusk for purple skies clouded by drifts and curls of smoke as food stalls below fire up the griddles and the smell of grilling meat overlaps with the insistent clattering of hand drums.

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