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Sultry souk affair

You might have boarded just another budget flight but by the time you disembark at Marrakech you’ve been transported to another world entirely. The heart of the city is Djemaa el Fna, the vast area at the centre of the medina. The name means 'Assembly of the Dead' in Arabic and it was where the decapitated heads of criminals were displayed. Nice!

At first glance, it’s an unprepossessing space; dusty and irregular. But it teems with life, from snake charmers and fortune tellers to rhythmic drummers and orange-juice sellers. Djemaa el Fna square, with its myriad performers and vendors; the sprawling, winding maze of laneways that make up the souks – where you’ll be expertly pickpocketed; the tranquil riads, or Moorish townhouses, many of which now function as charming guesthouses; the Saadian Tombs and Badii Palace; and everywhere the salmon-pink walls the city is renowned for, is a place worth visiting.

The cultural importance of the storytellers and musicians, and the risk that they would be forced out by economic development, prompted Unesco to designate the space a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ in 2001, and – it is a world away from the anodyne malls and branded high streets that pass for shopping experiences here.

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