Casablanca may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco, and its largest city, but it is one of the less endearing of the country’s sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may be tempted to find the first train out to nearby Rabat. The awe-inspiring Hassan II Mosque and happening nightlife and architecture (mostly colonial times buildings), however, are worth at least a day of your Moroccan itinerary.
The modern city of Casablanca was founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th century BCE, and was used by the Phoenicians, Romans, and the Merenids as a strategic port called Anfa. The Portuguese destroyed it and rebuilt it under the name Casa Branca, only to abandon it after an earthquake in 1755. The Moroccan sultan rebuilt the city as Daru l-Badya and it was given the name Casablanca by Spanish traders who established trading bases there. The French occupied the city in 1907, establishing it as a protectorate in 1912 and starting construction of the ville nouvelle, however it gained independence with the rest of the country in 1956.
Casablanca is now Morocco’s largest city with a population of almost 4 million. It has the world’s largest artificial port, but no ferry service of any kind. Casablanca is also the most liberal and progressive of Morocco’s cities. Young men flirt brazenly with scantily-clad women, designer labels are the norm in the chic, beachfront neighbourhood of ‘Ain Diab and many young Moroccans speak to each other exclusively in French.
But not everyone is living the Casablancan dream. Tens of thousands of rural Moroccans who fled the drought-ravaged interior to find work in the city are struggling under high unemployment rates and expensive housing. The poverty, prevalent in slums on the city’s outskirts, has led to high rates of crime, drug use, prostitution and the rise of Islamism.
Casablanca is a mixed bag of Moroccan extremes.
- King Hassan II Mosque, Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah. The largest mosque in Morocco and the seventh largest in the world, with the tallest minaret in the world. It opened in 1993, after 7 years construction. It is one of the two main mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Beautiful interior complete with water features, a roof that opens to the sky, a huge hammam in the basement (not in use), and beautiful tile work.
- Old Medina (north of the Place des Nations Unies. There is a small traditional walled town in the north of Casablanca). If you are in town it’s worth a visit, but it is nothing compared to the glories of Fes or Marrakesh.
- The Corniche. A neighborhood on the ocean, west of the Hassan II Mosque. Decades ago it was a thriving resort area – hotels line the ocean side of the Boulevard de la Corniche, and nightclubs line the other side. Most look like they’ve seen better days. Along the Boulevard de l’Ocean Atlantique are many newer, fancier hotels. The Corniche is also home to many western fast food chains. A new western-style movie theater can also be found here, but the best option is to walk up and down the street, resting at one of the many ocean-view cafes.
- Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman. Built on a rock off shore, well past The Corniche, and only accessible at low tide. The shrine itself is off-limits to non-Muslims, but visitors are permitted to explore the tiny, medina-like neighborhood that has sprung up around it. A better bet is to walk to it along the beach and catch a view of the beautiful white walls before taking a cab to less remote areas.
- Mahkama du Pacha. This is a Hispanic-Moorish building comprised of more than 60 ornate rooms with delicately carved wooden ceilings. There are many stuccoes and intricate wrought-iron railings as well as beautifully tiled floors. While entrance may be free it is not easy to get in. You need to find a guide to accompany you. Ask around – especially if you speak some French – it is worth it. To get there take bus 81 on Boulevard de Paris.
- Central Post Office. Come here to send your postcards in style! Built in 1918, the façade is composed of both round and rectangular shapes. Once you approach you will get a good view of the excellent mosaics.
- Rêve de mon œil. This art gallery exhibits a bizarre collection of modern welded sculptures by artists from all over Morocco.
- Octagon Square. This is one of the best places to see modern Morocco. Businessmen come out in droves at lunchtime to have their food in the sunshine on this modern city square. Great chances to take beautiful scenery shots too.
- Villa des Arts. Run by the charity ONA, it is a place for the Moroccan art scene.
Art galleries (commercial – they live of earnings they make by selling art, you can usually enter for free)
- Galérie d’art
- galerie shart
- Loft Art Gallery
- Galérie Nadar
- Casablanca information from wikivoyage.
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