Just got back from Jemma El Fna square, for the last time.
Having visited about 4 times I’m at a complete loss to understand why thIs should be listed by UNESCO.
It’s interesting but it’s cheap, tacky and in parts, embarrassing.
Given that this is the centre of Marrakech, it’s the hub of the tourist industry and is relied on to generate lots of foreign currency it isn’t very well managed. In fact, it’s in danger of frightening off even the toughest of tourist.
What I fail to understand is why it’s still a building site, with rubble and debris littering every aspect of the square. There’s no where calm, no where to catch your breath or shelter from the heat. No benches, no water fountain or lush vegetation to off set the raw energy of the square. It looks like they have been considering one, but for some reason they just haven’t gotten round to doing it.
Why not finish off the roads, the pavements, drains and kerbs so as people don’t trip and fall at every step? Make the environment safe for tourist and for those that work there.
Why not police it right, keep it clean, invest in its infrastructure?
I know this is a poor country and finances are tight, but some of the issues here are compounded by incompetence.
For example, why not coordinate the Bus stop with the Taxi rank?
We witnessed a Taxi driver drop a fare at the bus stop, then take out his mobile phone and make a call. Meanwhile, the next bus couldn’t get in, the one behind that stopped and blocked the road and all the traffic came to a stand still. All the while, the police stood around talking to their colleagues in the military.
Is it too much to ask that a Taxi Rank be designed, along side the bus stop, working in harmony rather than in obstruction?
There is already a regulated rank for horse drawn carriages (Caleches). Smelly things with no lights, pulled by a pair of horses that look dead on their feet, some are lame yet this mode of transport is in constant demand. The horses compete with all the other traffic, mainly without complaint, but no one can convince me this is acceptable. I know it earns a lot of people a living but if you want me to use them I need to know that good animal husbandry and basic welfare are respected.
There are Snake Charmers in the square. Loads of them.
They drop their snakes onto the hot concrete, beat their drums, play their God awful tuneless pipes and try to get tourists to take a picture, for money. The Snakes look completely bewildered, the Cobras arched in their classic pose looking potentially dangerous but sadly demoralised. Like a soldier who has surrendered at the end of a long battle but is still allowed to carry his rifle.
Even worse there are monkeys, some dressed in stupid costumes, but all wearing Nappies. To see these sad creatures being demeaned and embarrassed so a tourist can have his/her picture taken with them is I’m afraid, shameful and should be stopped.
Are you listening UNESCO?
Whilst I’m on the subject the Donkey Carts which criss cross the Medina carrying impossibly large loads are a pitiful sight too. I wouldn’t be so concerned if they looked healthy, well fed and dare I say, loved. However, most look as if they are born to a life of torture and torment, badly fed, often limping, pulling weights far in excess of their ability through the narrow streets in extreme heat. Sadly the Donkey Cart drivers look so poor I can’t imagine they have a great deal of money to spend on their steeds.
It wouldn’t be so bad if you thought they were regulated, protected, licensed and inspected. A Moroccan version of the RSPCA.
But, if your gonna have rules, standards, then they have to be enforced and it seems to me most things in Marrakech are left unchecked. No one enforces the rules and I’m told, corruption is rife.
There are Zebra Crossings and pedestrian controlled crossings but drivers don’t acknowledges them. They simply drive through people when they are crossing, they don’t stop for them and often don’t even slow down. It’s a nightmare.
More often than not under the watchful eye of the police who don’t seem interested.
If no one is concerned about people’s welfare, why would they worry about animals?
There are so many people trying to make a living on the Square, primarily from the tourists, but they are in danger of killing the Goose that lays the Golden Egg.
The entertainment on the square isn’t particularly good. In fact it’s terrible.
The restaurants and Bars aren’t good either.
They charge top prices because of theIr Location but they have become lazy and greedy. They look tired and grubby. In need of some urgent investment. Perhaps a new business model?
Sitting at any of these Bars isn’t a pleasant experience either. You can’t sit with a cold beer and watch the world go by, for that you have to go indoors or up onto one of the many terraces.
There are Hawkers continually trying to sell you, watches, sun glasses, fans, carvings even mirrors, in fact, any old Tat they can carry. And it’s constant. As one leaves you, the next moves in.
Then come the Beggars with out stretched hand permanently paralysed in the shape of a begging bowl.
They criss cross the square looking to shame a tourist in to giving them some money, any money.
I’ve never seen so many blind people as there are in the square and they all seem totally unable to function in this environment.
There is a Mosque right by our Riad which I think is called Sidi Bel Abbas and it’s full of disabled people of all shapes and sizes who sit in the shade of its wall all day every day. Some beg as we go by, other simply sit and stare. It’s heart breaking but what’s to be done?
So, we’ve said goodbye to the Square for the last time.
The noise, the horns, the drums, the pipes.
The smell of stinking horse.
The beggars, the tricksters, the performers and the crowds.
The number 2 bus that charged 3 dh each for the privilege of standing all the way to the Square.
The shop keepers who would sell more goods if they didn’t frighten and harass their customers. Jemma El Fna square is like Feeder Road Market at the height of a Bin Man’s strike, which is a pity cause it could be magical. It’s a commodity like the snakes and the monkeys, to be exploited in pursuit of money. And money means survival.
But, if it’s allowed to continue, to pursue the worst excesses of capitalism without any of the checks or balances it is in danger of self destruction. It will become so unpleasant that no one will want to visit.
Sorry Marrakech but you need to think about how you engage with the world in the future and you may find that a challenge. But the people are resilient, they’re resourceful and sharp, give them a chance and they could make it work.
Trust me, I’m a Nurse.