After securing lodging at the Hotel Central Palace, we arrived, still giddy and keen eyed, at the place Djemma El Fnaa, the “Assembly of the Dead” named, probably, for the habit (only recently broken!) of publicly displaying the lopped off heads of various rebels and criminals. This town “square” (really more of a 13 sided polygon) is the cultural navel of Marrakech. A gathering place for vendors, snake charmers, musicians, dancers, henna artists, orange juice stands, dentists, storytellers, fakirs, hustlers and countless other people of various and endless description. Though it is tempting to write the whole thing off as mere bubble gum for tourists, the Disney-ification of Morocco, a closer look reveals that this is a thing for and of Moroccans as much as it is a tourist attraction. Berber families comprise the bulk of the onlookers, and the stories told in Arabic were lost on me (as too were the services of various open air dentists, piles of molars proudly displayed next to the mat and pliers) The apothecary had a creative angle. In the midst of their various herbs, tinctures and potions stood a weathered and battered cut-a-way life sized model of the human head and torso. The idea appears to be that you point at the afflicted part of your body and the proper remedy is dispensed post haste.

It is endlessly fascinating. And if this weren’t exotic and vibrant enough, from here you can descend into the warren of alleyways known as the souks. These slot canyons of commerce give insight into life in a medieval town. Everything one needs is right here, and usually amazingly displayed. Spices and olives and dates in immaculate pyramids. Rugs and scarves effortlessly and elegantly draped on walls. Glittering brass and silver glinting in the few rays of sunlight that penetrate to ground level. And there are always tantalizing glimpses down alleyways, revealing darkness and light. After some hours spent aimlessly strolling, we diverged from the main stream of commerce down one of these quiet alleys. Ignoring the helpful guidance of small boys who figured we were lost (c.f. puppies) we wandered at random and found ourselves in a nameless open area just as the afternoon call to prayer wafted towards us from 3 different mosques.

Here are a few images from the alleyways of Marrakech:

Copyright Estate of Anthony Vail Sloan 2009