The Biggest Pasar Malam in the World

Established around a thousand years ago, the medina (walled city) of Marrakesh is one of Morocco’s eight Unesco World Heritage Sites. The focal point of the medina, the Djeema El Fna is acknowledged to be one of the biggest squares in the world, and if I may add, is also one of the biggest pasar malams in the world (or at least northern Africa). It has been featured in popular culture on a number of occasions, including in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man who Knew Too Much” and more recently in America’s Next Top Model Cycle 6.

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Old photo of the square taken with ancient camera (undated)

If you ignore the electric lights, tourists, cameras and motorcycles, an evening at the Djeema is to go back a thousand years in time. Fortune tellers, salesmen, acrobats, musicians, belly dancers, snake charmers, Jawas, hawkers, Barbary apes, story tellers and travellers congregate here each night, as they have done every night for the past thousand years.

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The square today (photo taken using iPhone4)

But the Djemaa El Fna is more than just a pasar malam, it is a theater, a circus, the gathering place for the people of the medina and beyond. This why the square itself was declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity . The push for the listing came from the medina’s residents concerned about the threats faced by the Djemaa El Fna from development pressure. In fighting for protection of their cultural traditions, the residents called for action on an international level, to recognize the need for the protection the Djemaa as a “cultural space”.

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A man shows off his pet raptor

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The same fellow then showing off his pet snake

Couldn’t help imagining similar parallels with the (much younger) pasar Taman Tun Dr Ismail that DBKL has been trying to tear down to make way for apartment blocks. Heritage and culture takes time to nurture – what sort of heritage will we  be left with if our local governments keep demolishing significant public spaces every so often in the name of development? On a more sobering note, 1-Utama has 950 years to go before it can be submitted for World Heritage Listing 😛

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4 thoughts on “The Biggest Pasar Malam in the World

  1. sharifah munirah says:

    What kind of man is Jawas.They look so scary.Are they natives of Morocco.Interesting stories but please dont be too adventurous in this kind of places.Take care ya.Bye

  2. Ma, Jawas are harmless to humans 🙂 They only kidnap droids (robots, etc) in Star Wars. We think they have mixed marriages with Moroccans to be half Jawa, half Berber.

  3. ly says:

    Cycle *16 🙂

    So they really have those monkeys which sat on the models’ shoulders and some of them freaked out?

    Did you guys drink tea on the rooftops? (seems like such an nice thing to do with sunset in background)

    Take care!!!

    p/s: like the last line bout 1-U ^_^

    • Monkeys in Cycle 16: Dylan says “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sara says “Yes!”

      And yes we paid for very expensive coke and coffee to hang out on a rooftop cafe the last evening we were there, but it was worth it I suppose.

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