All around the world Morocco is famous for it’s carpets and many travellers land in Marrakech in search of a quality piece of authentic craftwork. But it is rare to find a carpet seller who sells quality products, at fixed prices, without the tourist-spiel. However, the El Wifak Carpet Cooperative, located in the Ensemble Artisanal in Marrakech’s Medina, is one such place.
Located just a five minute walk from the Koutoubia Mosque and Jemaa el-Fna, the Ensemble Artisanal is the antithesis of the Souks: the atmosphere is relaxed and the prices are fixed, so no haggling!! Whilst looking through the many shops at the Ensemble Artisanal, we stumbled across the El Wifak Carpet Cooperative and were welcomed by Mustapha Alaoui; who happily spent over half an hour with us talking about carpets, the cooperative and his life.
Mustapha told us that he used to work in the government’s department for Artisanal craftwork, checking the quality of carpets and grading them based on various criteria. It quickly became clear that this man had a strong passion for and a large knowledge of traditional Moroccan carpets; a passion and knowledge he was enthusiastic to share. He explained that, the historic isolation of rural communities meant that peoples of different areas developed very individual styles. He continued to explain that El Wifak sold three kinds of carpet: Berber ‘Kilim’ carpets, used for throws, rugs or hung on walls, Tapestry carpets, made from wool and Arabic carpets, also made from wool, which tended to be bigger in size. Where the ‘Kilim’ carpets were made in the Atlas Mountains in Berber villages, both the Tapestry and Arabic carpets are made by the El Wifak Cooperative.
El Wifak, Arabic for sharing equally or a group of people in agreement, consists of around 70 women who make the carpets sold in the shop. (Traditionally, in Morocco, women make carpets and pottery whilst Men make jewelry and metal utensils.) The most important this about the cooperative is that everyone profits from all these sales are shared equally and everyone benefits. So, if you are looking for a quality product from a reputable source, if you are looking for an ethically sourced souvenir, or even if you are just put off by haggling in the Souks then this is the place for you.
The Ensemble Artisanal and the El Wifak Cooperative is located at the start (or the end, depending which way round you walk) of the ‘Needle and Thread’ Medina Walk available for free MarrakechRiad app. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Woodworking’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
Scattered throughout the Medina you will see the many mint salesmen going about their daily trade. Mint is an absolutely key staple in Moroccan society, used in marinades for a variety of dishes and of course in the traditional mint tea.
And the central hub of the red city is of course no exception to this. In the north-western area of Jemaa al-Fnaa on the tip of Rue de la Koutoubia you will discover a congregation of salesmen all specialising in the mint trade.
For around 50 Dirhams (£3.73) you can pick up a bag of dry Moroccan mint leaves to take back home with you. This is a commodity that’s truly unique to this corner of the world and there are a myriad of different culinary uses for this intensely flavoursome ingredient.
However after trying a couple of glasses of Moroccan mint tea for yourself, the only thing you’ll be wanting to do with it is to use it to make your own! Read our mint recipe here for all the relevant information.
Perched on the southern corner of Jemaa al-Fnaa, just off Rue Riad Zitoun Kdim you will find Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier.
Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier is one of two café-restaurants that due to their larger than average size have a distinct prominence within the central square of the red city. No matter where you are standing in Jemaa al-Fnaa, you will usually be able to see the decorated signs of Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier or the Hotel Restaurant Café du France (the second of the two establishments) through the jostling crowds of the square.
At Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier you will discover a selection of traditional Moroccan refreshments. During the day this venue is ideal for enjoying a glass of mint tea, which at 20 Dirhams (£1.49) isn’t the cheapest that’s on offer within the confines of Jemaa al-Fnaa. However the unique ambiance of this grand café-restaurant with it’s towering, high ceilings and original Moroccan design makes it more than worthwhile.
It is perhaps in the night that the Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier shows its most magnificent colours. If you traverse through the downstairs foyer of Le Grand Balcon and climb to the establishments roof you will discover a long, stretching terrace that is bustling with tourists and locals alike, taking photos of the food stalls being set up and generally absorbing the splendour of the square.
As the Marrakshi sun begins to set this is the ideal time to try a bottle of Hawai soft drink, at 15 Dirhams (£1.12) it again isn’t the cheapest drink you will find in the square. Yet atop the roof terrace there is nothing quite as refreshing as enjoying a bottle of it and observing newcomers to the red city watch in wonderment as the musicians, magicians and acrobats pour out into the ancient space of Jemaa al-Fnaa to perform for the passers by.
Le Grand Balcon leaves its doors open right through the late evening and is but walking distance from the luxury Riad Habiba.
On the south-western side of the central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa you will discover a large post office (Poste Maroc).
Sending a postcard or letter is usually cheap, but in Morocco it is especially so. For less than 10 Dirham (around 70p) you can send a postcard to anywhere in Europe. The yellow post boxes are also found out of the front of the building; a top tip from us is that there is no international postbox, so no confusion.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is the beating heart of the Marrakech Medina and is but a 10 minute stroll from the newly opened luxury Riad Star.
As you unwind in one of the cafe’s or restaurants that are lined along the edges Jemaa al-Fnaa, don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of a group of local acrobats who often descend towards the South-Eastern corner of the square.
The troupe are an illustrious bunch and after vaulting and somersaulting their way through the square, they quickly disperse into the thriving crowds passing through Jemaa al-Fnaa.
So I ask a nearby local for more information surrounding the history of acrobatics in Marrakech. I’m told that that the practice of acrobatics is revered not only in the red city but across the entire nation of Morocco. Also if an acrobat show’s unbridled natural talent, it is often said the blood of H’amad Amous could run in his or her veins.
Amous, the local Marrakshi goes on to describe is was a leader of a famous clan of acrobats in a time gone past. People would say that salt flowed through the bones of H’amad Amous and his followers and this is what allowed them to bend and propel their bodies in impossible ways.
Although the legend of Amous is encompassed by both fiction and fact, a ten minute stroll from Riad Cinnamon through the renowned souk district will take you to the beating heart of the city, Jemaa al-Fnaa where the acrobat’s of Marrakech still practice their trade to this day.
El Waha Café Restaurant is located on the eastern side of the central square of Marrakech (Jemaa al-Fnaa), a convenient 5 minute stroll from Riad Dar Habiba but only a 10-15 minute walk from any of our other Riad’s. El Waha offers a similar selection of traditional Moroccan dishes as other Café Restaurant’s in the area such as Taj’in Darna, what distinguishes El Waha however is it’s rooftop terrace which is one of the highest in Jemaa al-Fnaa. After a short climb to the terrace you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Jemaa al-Fnaa and the high Atlas mountains that surround the red city whilst enjoying a glass of Moroccan mint tea. Another charming characteristic at El Waha is the option of being able to enjoy local cuisine and refreshments on a set of Moroccan sofas towards the back of the terrace. From this cosy corner you can still gaze over the bustling hub of the red city whilst enjoying a gentle breeze and some respite from the intense Moroccan sun. » Explore the Jemaa el Fnaa
As the sun set’s over the central square of Marrakech, performers, magicians and musicians descend on Jemaa al-Fnaa to perform for the thriving crowds that circulate within the area. One group of musicians who call themselves the ‘Argan group’ have become particularly popular in the square for the atmosphere they create with their array of percussion instruments.
Hailing from different Berber villages scattered around the outskirts of the red city, the musicians meet with their instruments in the centre of Marrakech to captivate the crowds of the Medina.
The Argan Group’s style reflects that of which is typical in the Rif Valley (Berber: Arif Valley) in the very Northern reaches of Morocco.
Although it’s impossible to understand the flurry of Berber and Arabic singing that pierces the smoky air of the square, just watching the group of musicians keep the steady cadence of their music whilst sharing out glasses of Moroccan mint tea and ushering curious passersby closer into the circle is a truly remarkable sight.
I quickly learn that the only way to speak with Argan group and find out more about them is by accepting to dance with the members inside the circle! After learning to dance in the traditional Berber style I learn from a man whose name is Omar that the group have been playing together since 1998 and as well as street performances they are often asked to play at weddings and other special celebrations.
The central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa is only a 5 minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba. As you discover the street performers of Marrakech don’t be surprised to be asked to dance along too! In this corner of the world it is often not often to simply sit alongside the musicians as the line between performer and spectator is often blurred!
Taj’in Darna is a cafe/ restaurant located on the Eastern side of Marrakech’s central square. Serving a variety of traditional Moroccan dishes and refreshments it’s cosy rooftop terrace is the ideal space in which to stop and refresh your batteries after a day spent exploring the red city.
Due to the stunning panoramic views of Jemaa al-Fnaa from Taj’in Darna’s terrace you can expect to pay just a few more Dirham’s for a meal here compared with nearby snack bars such Snack Toubkal. A Moroccan chicken tajine is around 45 Dirham’s (£3.44) and a glass of sweet mint tea is 15 Dirham’s (£1.15).
As Taj’in Darna is located in the cities central square it is only a short walking distance from any of our hotel Riad’s. I often went there during the holy month of Ramadan to enjoy a salad with the seclusion that the Cafe’s terrace offers. If you are feeling adventurous, I would recommend that you try the range of Moroccan Pastilla’s that are on offer at the restaurant. Combing both salty and sweat this hand-cooked meat pie is baked and sprinkled with both sugar and cinnamon for a unique, delicious taste.
The ideal time to visit Taj’in Darna is as the sun starts to set across the red city. As you enjoy the rich and flavoursome dishes that Morocco has to offer you can look across the square of Jemaa al-Fnaa and watch it burst into life as musicians, storytellers and performers pour out onto the streets to prepare for the night ahead.
Lamp’s have held a hugely high value in Moroccan architecture and design for hundreds of years and are used in all four corners of Morocco to decorate shops, restaurants and houses. Hand-crafted Moroccan lamps come in all shapes and sizes and often take a painstakingly long time to complete.
In Jemaa al-Fnaa many lamp salesmen can easily be found among the street shops that line around the edges of the central square. Though these boutiques are nameless, there is one however which specialises in traditional Moroccan lamps which is nearly impossible to miss.
After a 10 minute walk from the Riad Star towards the centre of the red city, I spot the lamp boutique and immediately images of Aladdin’s cave are conjured in my mind. I have to stoop under the array of Moroccan lanterns hanging from the shop’s ceiling, all of which are designed using different patterns, sizes and materials.
I talk to the shop keeper, who introduces himself as Omar. He explain’s that he and a friend have been in the trade of collecting lamps in Marrakech for around 10 years. He goes on to explain to me that traditional Moroccan lamps are used in the interiors and exteriors of homes and that their unique design is important to many Moroccans.
I would recommend returning to the lamp shop after the sun sets. From then it is easier to get an understanding of the unique ambiance that the Moroccan lanterns create. As the flames dance within their casings the unique patterns of each lamp are illuminated on the surrounding walls, giving the boutique a stunning and truly mysterious feel.
You never truly quite know what to expect before venturing into Marrakech’s thriving central hub, Jemaa al-Fnaa. A five minute wander through this ancient space and you will witness acrobats, story tellers and magicians all competing to hold the gaze of the moving crowds.
There is one act, however that is perhaps quite different from the others. A troupe of four musicians, Abdulrahim, Mostafa, Abdelrazak and Said make up the group known as ‘Amal Saha’ and unlike the mysterious, healing sounds of Gnawa music in the square, Amal Saha’s songs are powerfully charged with optimism.
Abdulrahim disappear’s shortly after as the crowds begin to swarm around the group once more. Soon after the steady cadence of the band’s drums slowly fills the air with sound as screams, claps and shouts erupt from the crowd. Although Amal Saha’s lyrics are of course in Arabic, the raw, uncompromising riffs flowing from the bands electric banjo through to a megaphone powered by a car battery are without need of a translation. This was not so much of a conventional music performance in which a band plays music for an audience to listen. As the drums, guitars and shrill cries of Amal Saha pierce the already wild atmosphere of Jemaa al-Fnaa I learn that this is a performance in which both musician and crowd are animated under the same energy of expression.
And unlike the various punk concerts I attend back in the United Kingdom, Amal Saha are encased by a crowd of parents, children and the elderly, all chanting in unison.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is a five to ten minute walk from any of our Riad’s and a night spent with Amal Saha for me was another case example of the remarkable experiences that can be had just from walking through the streets of the red city of Marrakech.
The centre of Marrakech (Jemaa al-Fnaa) is not only the cultural hub of the red city, it’s also a thriving centre for cuisine. Here you will find restaurants, cafe’s and open air stalls to match any budget. Tucked away on the Eastern side of Djemaa al-Fnaa as you enter the square from Rue Riad Zitoun Lakdim is ‘Snack Toubkal’. Day and night, Snack Toubkal is a bustling eating spot for tourists and locals. As one of the waiters guides you to your seat don’t be surprised to overhear a melting pot of different languages conversing with one another whilst enjoying a range of traditional Moroccan dishes. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of Snack Toubkal is it’s incredibly cheap. A Moroccan salad (tomatoes, onions and parsley infused with a range of spices from fresh dill to Ras el Hanout) costs only 5 Dirhams (£0.38) and a home-cooked chicken or lamb tajine is 25 Dirhams (£1.91). For this reason Snack Toubkal is the ideal location to try a variety of different dishes you might be unsure about in the higher budget restaurants. Go with a group of friends and mix and match each others dishes to discover what appeals most to your taste buds whilst recharging your batteries from a day spent in the Marrakshi souks. Conveniently placed in the central square, Snack Toushkal is easy to locate and only a five to ten minute walk from any of our Riads hotels. If you visit the cafe during the day, I would highly recommend trying the classic Moroccan soup dish ‘Harira’. Full bodied and fragrantly seasoned with ginger, pepper and
cinnamon, Harira is again a cheap and truly delicious dish that will make your trip in Morocco all the more special. » Explore the Jemaa el Fnaa Map
Cafe France is a Marrakech institution, located at the north west corner of the Jemaa al Fnaa it has been a meeting place and watering hole for Europeans since the days of the French Protectorate in Morocco. It was redecorated at the end of 2009 and inconveniently for the new visitor the Cafe France sign was not repainted over the front. Despite this Cafe France can’t be classified as a well kept secret! This is an excellent place for people watching and provides a comfortable shady spot to while away summer afternoons.
The building is rumoured to have been sold recently with a scandalous suggestion that it may reopen as a McDonalds restaurant. Surely this would not be allowed in the historic Jemaa al Fnaa which is a UNESCO world heritage site?
What better base could you have to explore the historic medina of Marrakech than one of our boutique Riad Hotels? Marrakech Riad Cinnamon is located near to the Marrakech Museum, Marrakech Riad Papillon is near to the Palace at Dar El Bashah. Reserve accommodation today
The cultural origins of this tradition lie in the fact that it would be considered innapropriate for women to put on such a performance. Visitors are welcome to stop a while and watch, as long as they contribute a few dirhams.
There are many sights and sounds in the vibrant Jemaa al Fnaa, the main square in Marrakech Morocco. One of the more curious is the sights of brightly dressed men moving throught the crowds (often ringing bells or callingout) carrying goat skin bags of water and brass cups.
The explanation is that they are water sellers, and originally their function was just that, selling drinking water the locals. Today they make their living charging a few dirhams for posing for tourist photographs.