When people decide to take a journey to Morocco, they tend to seek out the predefined exotic destinations in the country, and while Casablanca (see our insider’s guide to Casablanca) lacks that label, there are several interesting things to do in Casablanca before traipsing off into the desert for a camel ride. Situated on Morocco’s northwestern coast, the city is known as dar el beida in Arabic. The name Casablanca means “white house.”
Casablanca was founded in the 7th century as an independent Berber kingdom. Later it was seized by the Arabs and subsequently by Almoravids and the Merenids, then finally by the Portuguese and the Spanish. These last two cultures gave the city its name. In the middle of the 18th century, the town was destroyed by an earthquake. It was later rebuilt by Moulay Ismael, the grandson of the second ruler of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty. In 1907, the French took control of Casablanca; they remained in control until 1956 when Morocco gained independence.
Whether you are a tourist or a business traveler, Casablanca offers an interesting blend of modern urban life and cultural accents. It is common to see men and women garbed in the latest Western fashions mingling with those wearing conservative Islamic clothing, including the hooded djellaba. Similarly, if you walk through the city, you can see modern architecture in proximity to that which is traditional Islamic. If you want to sample the local cuisine there are plenty of fine cafes and sandwich shops.
Yet others are more interested in the popular local sites. The Hassan II Mosque is one of the major landmarks in the city. It is the second largest mosque in the world and is located very near the Old Medina on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors may be awed by the exquisite craftsmanship of the wood, marble and granite and plaster accent pieces. Additionally, there is a glass floor that allows views of the ocean below. Located in the same area as the Hassan II Mosque is La Corniche, a popular beach front district replete with restaurants, beaches and pools.
The Square of Mohammed V is one of the most popular places for locals to gather during the course of the day. A large fountain forms the centerpiece of this area of Casablanca. Historical buildings like the Palace of Justice French Consulate and Banque of Morocco surround the square. The downtown district is also home to the bazaar, a souk (or market) frequented by tourists looking to buy souvenirs. You can also buy traditional clothing, jewelry, antiques, rugs and other pieces.
If you head over to the Habbous District, an enormous collection of souks located just behind the king’s palace, you have even more shopping opportunities. You can find just about anything here. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for fresh vegetables, house wares, clothing, jewelry or just souvenirs. Tourists are also welcome at the Royal Palace so you could stop there before you hit the markets.
Written by Shaun Kilgore.
Photo by Alex Milla.