The carnivalesque open square right at the center of the medina is Marrakesh's heartbeat and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This centuries-old square was once a meeting point for regional farmers and tradesmen, storytellers and healers; today it's surrounded by bazaars, mosques, and terraced cafés with perfect balcony views over the action. Transvestite dancers bat their eyelashes; cobras sway to the tones of snake charmers; henna women make their swirling marks on your hands; fortune-tellers reveal mottled futures; apothecaries offer bright powder potions and spices; bush dentists with Berber molars piled high on tables extract teeth; and, best of all, men tell stories to each other the old way, on a magic carpet around a gas lamp.
All day (and night) long you can get fresh orange or grapefruit juice from the green gypsy carts that line up round the square, for about 4 DH a glass. You can also buy a shot of cool water from one of the roving water sellers, whose eye-popping costumes
carry leather water pouches and polished-brass drinking bowls. Or snack on sweet dates, apricots, bananas, almonds, sugar-coated peanuts, and walnuts from the dried fruit–and–nut stalls in the northwest corner. Meat and vegetable grills cook into the night, when Marrakshis come out to eat, meet, and be entertained. It might be a fun bazaar today, but once upon a time the Djemâa's purpose was more gruesome; it accommodated public viewings of the severed heads of sinners, criminals, and Christians. Djemâa actually means "meeting place" and el Fna means "the end" or "death," so as a whole it means something along the lines of "assembly of death" or "meeting place at the end of the world."