The city of Casablanca was immortalized in the movie of the same name staring Humphrey Bogart. It was actually established in 1906 and had a population of approximately 20,000 people. Today, the city boasts a population of over 4 million and, as the heart and soul of Morocco, it resembles a Southern European city more than the rest of the cities in the country itself. The city is probably the most liberal and progressive of all of Morocco’s cities and it’s not uncommon to see young women clad in designer labels and men sporting suit, ties and briefcases.
The city of Casablanca – also known as Dar el Baida or simply Casa – is the capital city of Morocco. It is the main entrance and exit for most visitors to the country, whether flying from Europe or the USA. With plenty of places to stay on any budget in and around Casablanca, visitors will find it a perfect holiday getaway that involves some shopping, some good food, plenty of night life and a lot of relaxation.
Morocco: French Influence
There is no doubt that the French influenced the city of Casablanca during their occupation in the early 1900s. To see the Casablanca that Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart knew in the movie, one would need to travel to the old city. The new city is modern, chic, and beautiful.
This “new city” centre has lively streets with tall, white buildings. Visitors to Casablanca who have seen nothing else of Morocco may be disappointed to see that it is so modern and nothing like what they expected the city to be like. Casablanca, if anything, is the perfect example of how Moroccans are moving forward with time and taking charge of the economic direction their country should go in.
The streets of Casablanca fan out from the Place de Nations Unies, the focal point of downtown as well as where the modern city meets the traditional medina. As you walk around Casablanca, you will see that the old colonial centre of the city was given quite a bit of attention by the French authorities. The buildings are grand and the architecture is the French take on the Arabo-Andalucian style, complete with soft lines and attention to detail. If you stand in the middle of the streets in Casablanca and gaze at the corners, you will see just how well these French buildings have withstood the ravages of time and how well the citizens have kept them up. If you enjoy gazing at architecture such as this, then you will want to explore the area south of Avenue des Force Armees Royales and the Place de Nations Unies.
The old city, on the other hand, is small and it is made up of small houses and shops that are more modern than one would initially expect. There are very few alleyways found in the old city, something that every other old European city seems to have plenty of. This is a refreshing change for most travelling on a tour to Morocco. There is little to see in the old city with the exception of a few spots of quiet beauty, but if you are enjoying a relaxing vacation and just taking in the sights for what they worth, then a stroll through this section of Casablanca will have its own rewards. There is an excellent market in the old city, but make sure you look over everything before you purchase an item. One stall may have it for less than another and the shopkeepers here know how to haggle, barter and earn their keep.
While Visiting Casablanca, Morocco
If you are looking for a nice handcrafted souvenir from Morocco, then the many different shops in the medina will have the perfect item. The shops here are all well maintained and while the area is smaller than most traditional souqs in the country, you will find items here that are designed to meet the needs of the residents and all of high quality.
The Marche Central offers everyone fresh vegetables, meats, seafood of all kinds, and more. If you’ve never had turtle soup, make sure you try some from Casablanca. This is a treat for visitors from countries where the selling of turtles for food is prohibited.
Visitors who want to spend a day at the beach can take a bus to Ain Diab and enjoy walking along the surf. There are numerous beach clubs here. Some have saltwater pools, fine-dining restaurants and sidewalk seating cafés. Be forewarned as they can be a bit expensive to visit. You may also want to pop into Rick’s Café in Casablanca near the walls of the Old Medina and within walking distance of the Hassan II Mosque. This establishment has recreated the café from the Bogart and Bergman movie right down to the piano player who plays ‘As Time Goes By’ every night.
For more historical or ethnic sites to see, the Hassan II Mosque is open Muslim and non-Muslim alike, not common of Morocco mosques. There are guided tours through the mosque four times a day and the architecture and motifs both inside and out are well worth seeing.
The cultural and economic center of Morocco may not be as ethnically fascinating as other cities in the country, but Casablanca has its own appeal. The city is perfect for weekend getaways and the nightlife is attractive to everyone who visits this bustling and very modern Moroccan city.
by Sam Mitchell