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<   No. 4123   2019-11-13   >

Comic #4123

1 {scene: a square outside Al Balyana railway station}
1 Monty: Here we are, Al Balyana! Abydos is about 6 miles away. We can hire a taxi over there.
2 Prof. Jones: Bah! In our day, we'd walk that!
3 Monty: Six miles through the desert heat? Okay... I guess... We can walk.
4 Prof. Jones: It’s not our day any more. You walk; we’re getting a taxi.

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I've never been to Al Balyana, so I've used a photo of a different place for the background. The photo is of the square of Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square in Marrakesh, and the primary hub for activity of both locals and tourists. The main souq, or covered marketplace, of Marrakesh borders one edge of the square, and spills over into the square with temporary stalls during the day. The square is also full of entertainers, including traditional storytellers, musicians, snake charmers, and others. At night the square transforms into a vast food market, with hundreds of stalls selling meals. The other sides are edged with hotels, cafes, and restaurants.

Jemaa el-Fnaa has existed for almost a millennium, more or less since the foundation of Marrakesh around 1060-1070. The origin of the name is uncertain. Jamaa in Arabic means variously "congregation", "assembly", or "mosque", while finâ means "courtyard", "open area", ... or "death", "extinction", or "ruination". One story favoured by some historians goes that the 16th century Moroccan sultan Ahmad al-Mansur attempted to build a mosque in the middle of the square, but his funds ran out, forcing him to abandon the construction. The partly finished mosque fell into ruins. Mansur intended to call the mosque Jamaa al-Hna, or "mosque of tranquility", but instead it became known as the "Jamaa al-Fnaa", or "mosque of ruins". This story is related by the 17th century historian Abderrahman as-Sa'idi, in whose writings the name "Jamaa al-Fnaa" appears recorded for the first time.

However, there are other competing theories. Given the meanings of the words in Arabic, Jemaa el-Fnaa can be read as any one of:

Jemaa el-Fnaa has been listed as part of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, with the long-standing oral traditions of its storytellers and entertainers becoming one of the initial pieces of intangible cultural heritage on that list.

It really is an amazing place to visit. I've talked before about "crossroads of the world" - places where people from all over the world gather and you really get the sense that you're part of an entire globe of people from all different places and cultures, rather than just a bunch of people who all live nearby. Times Square, Piccadilly Circus, the Spanish Steps, Shibuya Crossing, La Rambla. I missed mentioning Jemaa el-Fnaa that time, but there's no doubt at all that it belongs in that list.

I don't have this exact photo uploaded, but here's one I took from almost the same spot, later in the evening:

Arriving in Jemaa el-Fnaa

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My comics: Irregular Webcomic! | Darths & Droids | Eavesdropper | Planet of Hats | The Dinosaur Whiteboard | mezzacotta
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