Africa travel guide

Marrakech: spotlight on Jemaa el Fna and the Koutoubia Mosque

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Marrakech is home to numerous sights and attractions that are considered to be unmissable by many tourists who visit the city. However, we’re going to focus on two of the most spectacular and popular places to go – Jemaa el Fna Square and the Koutoubia Mosque.

What makes them so popular?

Jemaa el Fna is like the beating heart of old Marrakech, its square and souks encapsulate a wonderfully hectic atmosphere that is quintessentially north African – the smells from the food stalls, the colours of the market stalls and the sounds of the street performers, all enclosed in a wonderful medieval walled medina.

There really is nowhere better to go in Marrakech if you want to get an idea of what the city was like centuries ago, when it was a bustling trading hub between Europe and Asia.

The Koutoubia Mosque, meanwhile, is one of Marrakech’s most recognisable landmarks, with its huge minaret towering above the wall of the medina. This mosque is the largest Islamic place of worship in Marrakech and it’s a beautiful building. Its minaret is also a useful landmark for orientating yourself when you’re exploring the souk – it’s located at the western edge of the medina.

Jemaa el Fna

When you set out to explore Jemaa el Fna’s souks, you really should be prepared to get lost at least once. The winding streets of the medina are like a maze that you disappear into and have to spend a considerable amount of time trying to navigate out of! That is, however, a large part of the fun of wandering around here, so treat it as part of the experience.

There is a huge variety of goods on sale in the souks, with everything from carpets and shoes to jewellery and spices laid out on the stalls. The vibrant colours and varied smells will really stick in your mind – and you can use some of the more distinctive stores to help you find your way around (or at the very least realise when you’ve been going round in circles!).

As well as enjoying the chaos of the souks, make sure you linger in the square itself to take in some of the incredible street performances. There are wonderful shows going on throughout the day and into the night, with everyone from storytellers, jugglers and snake charmers to dancers, musicians and acrobats turning out to entertain the crowds.

If you really want to be in the thick of the action, stay in a luxury hotel in Marrakech – there are many charming riads located in and around the medina.

Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia Mosque is worth taking the time to admire, as it’s such a striking building. You should bear in mind that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque itself, so you’ll have to take in the scene from outside.

Spend a bit of time looking at the towering minaret, which stands over 70 m tall. On top of the minaret are four copper orbs of decreasing size, which are a feature of many other Moroccan mosques. The colourful ceramic tiles that decorate its upper level, as well as the ornate stone carved arches, are characteristic of Moorish design and are apparent in many later Muslim places of worship across the country.

Although you can’t head inside the mosque itself, you are free to wander around its stunning grounds. The gardens outside the mosque are beautiful, and the long, rectangular pool here usually reflects the minaret in all its glory. If you do plan to visit, dress respectfully – women should wear tops that cover their shoulders and both men and women ought to wear trousers or skirts that go below the knee.

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