Here’s looking at you, Casablanca

It gave its name to one of the most famous films in Hollywood history, but the city of Casablanca is far more interesting that the film would suggest.

Morocco’s largest city is also quite modern and cosmopolitan, probably because it is relatively modern, being established in 1906.  That’s not to say it was empty before then, the Berber people have lived around Casablanca for many centuries. Perhaps the most obvious aspects of Casablanca are the wide boulevards flanked by tall buildings. The streets are well-planned and fork out from the Place de Nations Unies much like the leaves of a fan. This excellent town planning is a legacy of French occupation and the love for art deco by the architect Henri Prost.

Located prominently on the Atlantic Ocean, Casablanca is Morocco’s largest port, and really that country’s de facto Capital.  It is certainly the economic and industrial capital, but the locals leave the politics and pomp to Rabat.

The old city, or Medina, of Casablanca is conveniently located just off the Place de Nations Unies.  Because of its relative young age, and its general good order, it perhaps doesn’t have the same exciting appeal as older and narrower medinas in other parts of Morocco.

One of the main attractions is the Hassan II Mosque.  It has an enormously tall minaret which soars to 210 metres (689 feet), and a gigantic glass floor which can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, with another 80,000 being able to fit into the courtyard. At night the minaret has lasers that shine in the direction of Mecca. The mosque stands on a prominent piece of land that rises up on the shore of the Atlantic and provides visitors with the most spectacular views of the ocean. It was decided by King Hassan II that the mosque should be built on this location because of a verse found in the Qur’an, which says that God’s throne was built over the water. The King wanted worshippers to be able to see God’s creations like the ocean and the sea, and unlike most mosques, the Hassan II Mosque is open to everyone, not just Muslims.  

There are many good hotels and restaurants in Casablanca, but because it is the commercial capital of Morocco, and used to receiving business people, the prices here can be higher than in other parts of Morocco.  Casablanca is certainly a good introduction to Morocco for anybody that may have fears about travelling in a place where the customs and practices are vastly different from those experienced in the West, but despite its European feel, the shopkeepers can still barter just as hard as their compatriots elsewhere.

For getting around in Casablanca there are good bus services and two types of taxis, petit taxis, which are small and grand taxis, which tend to be Mercedes.  Obviously the grand cost more than the petit, but you can also hire the grand taxis for more extensive touring.

Oh, and if you do hanker to relive the film Casablanca, there is a Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, but it is a recreation and only opened in 2004, still the decor and the piano player are reminiscent of the movie, you just won’t get to meet Humphrey or Ingrid.

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