Morocco’s Marrakech aims to be a city teeming with sensory overloads. Established in the early 16th century, this city proved itself as the busiest market place in Africa for those seeking trading stalls, culture and religion. Called the red city, for its red sandstone construction use in the 12th century; its mosques, palaces and city walls seem to all hold the rustic, earthy quality which adds to the beauty of Marrakech.
This city has been moulded from a metropolis of worship and praise to a city bursting with life. The Jamaa el Fna is the main square in Marrakech’s Medina quarter. It defines this South-Western city for what it is, a hub for variety and diversity. By day, the Jamaa el Fna square may bustle with orange juice stalls, Moroccan spice trades, traditionally clad water sellers by means of leather water bags and brass cups and performing snake charmers. As the evening progresses, the square is lit, as it fills with food stalls, story tellers, Chleuh dancing boys and peddlers of ancient medicines which attract both locals and tourists.
Attractions, like the Jamaa el Fna, fill Marrakech’s overcrowded streets with thousands; who come to experience the warm atmosphere and charisma this city holds. The summer highlights this, as the Marrakech national festival of popular arts begins every year in July.
Founded by the late King Mohammed V in 1959, the festival of popular arts originated purely to celebrate and preserve their national heritage; a tradition which has continued and flourished since its beginning. It is a tribute to Morocco’s cultural diversity, with each region gathered to celebrate their own community through art, dance, song and costumes.
Regional dance performances and theatre groups put on formal pieces, along with art exhibitions within the El Badi Palace ruins, while more informal celebrations occur near the Jamaa el Fna. A festival of this range and notoriety has always attracted both tourists and fellow performers. Belly dancers, fire eaters, fortune tellers, acrobats, craftsmen, vendors and singers are just a few of the artists which gather from all over Morocco, Africa, Asia and Europe.
The main cultural attraction of the popular arts festival is called Fantasia. Held outside the city walls, near the Bab Jdid, Fantasia features a horse riding spectacle involving hundreds of horsemen and women. Fantasia is a display of traditional Moroccan culture. The streets of Marrakech come alive with artist galas and street parties which saturate the air with vibrancy and energy. Morocco’s culture and art are easily absorbed by all of those there to witness the sheer array of celebration.
The back drop to this energetic gala seems to make the experience much more profound. The ochre based architecture in the El Badi palace is stunning in its own right. Built by Ahmed al-Mansour between 1578 and 1602, the Palais el-Badi was nicknamed ‘the incomparable’ for its beauty and craftsmanship.
Morocco’s respect for tradition is demonstrated by their passionate protection of events, like the popular arts celebration and the Jamaa el Fna itself. A project called Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity was born from people’s desire to protect the essence of the Jamaa el Fna. Under notice from economic developments, residents called for the safeguarding of places like Jamaa el Fna which were arenas for cultural expression.
The Marrakech festival of popular arts demonstrates a country’s desire to remember and honour national heritage and tradition. It has unified a community, created a trading platform with buyers travelling from all over the world and placed pride and empowerment into artistry and culture. Commerce and tourism has run parallel to this annual tradition, as many flock to take in the variety and spectacle this celebration provides.
What was the most recent time other countries celebrated their beauty of art and culture?