Founded in the seventh century by the Berbers, and it remained a small independent country known as Anfa, until the Almoravids conquered it in 1068. Merinids took over in the fourteenth century and she gained importance as port city. The Portuguese destroyed the city in 1468, Anfa had become a safe harbor for pirates and thieves. In 1515, the Portuguese came back and built a military fortress. A town was built up around the fortress that was known as Casabranca, Portuguese for “white house”. The name eventually became Casablanca, the Spanish word of the same meaning.
An earthquake destroyed the city in 1755 and the Portuguese abandoned the area. Sultan Sidi Mohammed II, grandson of Ismail Moulay, rebuilt Casablanca during his reign from 1756-1790.
In the 1800s, Casablanca’s economy and population started to grow. Morocco exported wool to England and imported tea. In the 1860s, approximately 5000 people made their home here. That number had doubled by the 1880s. After the French conquest, the population grew to 12,000, by 1906. With the influx of the French colonialists, the number went up to more than 100,000. Today the population is near the 4 million mark.
Casablanca’s past has not always been rosy. After the French took over, they decided to build a railroad near the port. Unfortunately, it passed through a graveyard. Residents were incensed and attacked the French. France called in troops to restore order. Rioting against the French continued and was at its worst in 1940s and 50s.
During World War II, the city was the host of the Casablanca Conference in 1943. A strategic port, it was used by the Americans as the staging area for aircraft that were used in Europe.
The center of Casablanca, today, is big, clean and impressive. It looks nothing like the city of the popular movie of the same name. Casablanca has an old city area that is home to smaller dwellings, however, she does not have an ancient medina. Casablanca is not the popular idea of what old Arabian cities should be like.. Casablanca does have some good markets in which to explore like other Moroccan cities.
Casablanca shows her Muslim roots with the building of Hassan II Mosque. It was built on a promontory that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The mosque has a huge glass floor through which the Atlantic can be seen. Built in such a manner, the faithful pray over the ocean. More than 100,000 worshippers can pray here at one time. Designed by French architect, Michael Pinseau, it has the tallest minaret in the world at 210 meters. King Hassan II declared that the mosque should be built on water because the throne of God is on water. Funded by donations the mosque’s total cost is thought to be around the eight hundred billion mark. It took 2500 men, working around the clock to build this in a relatively short time. Hassan II Mosque shows the Moorish influence and the minaret has lights that are pointed toward Mecca. This mosque is one of the few open to non-Muslims.
Written by: Carole Morris