Casablanca is located in the western part of Morocco on the shores of Atlantic Ocean. It is the country’s largest and most cosmopolitan city and busiest port. In fact, the city has one of the largest artificial ports in the world.
It is also Morocco’s industrial and economic capital although the country’s political center is Rabat. The city has excellent rail and road connections with the rest of the country and mostly serves as the travelers’ entry point into the country. However, Casablanca has many attractions for the visitor, even if it’s just to visit Rick’s, the restaurant immortalized in the film Casablanca.
The oldest part of Casablanca is the Old Medina, which still features parts of the original walls that used to encircle it. The modern part of town was designed by the French architect, Henri Prost. He planned the city center where the main market of Anfa had been and this is the focal point from which all main streets radiate in eastern and southern directions. The city’s biggest attraction is the newly built Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world, the size and beauty of which is breathtaking.
Throughout the city numerous art nouveau and art deco buildings remain from the French Colonial era. Casablanca was made famous in the west by the 1942 movie of a classic love story carrying the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Casablanca is blessed with a Mediterranean climate which is influenced by the cooling currents of the Atlantic Ocean. Thus the city experiences mild temperatures and very little seasonal fluctuation, with no extremes either hot or cold. Summers are warm and winters are mild and rainy.
January average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 58 mm rainfall February average temperature 12 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall March average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 58 mm rainfall April average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall May average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 15 mm rainfall June average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 10 mm rainfall July average temperature 22 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall August average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 3 mm rainfall September average temperature 21 deg Celsius, 8 mm rainfall October average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall November average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall December average temperature 12 deg Celsius, 86 mm rainfall
Casablanca is served by Mohammed V International Airport (CMN), Morocco’s busiest gateway, and is well attended by major airlines.
The best way of reaching the city is by train. The station is located under the terminal building. Trains leave hourly between 6 am and midnight.
Official Casablanca taxis are either red, which are called ‘petits’ - small taxis, or white, these are known as ‘grandes’ or big taxis. The red taxis operate in the central part of the city whereas the big taxis function as shared minibuses on fixed routes in the city or between cities.
Tram and Metro networks are still under construction and are due for completion in 2012 and 2017 respectively.
Hammams are a definite must-see and provide a genuine cultural experience. They are the descendants of the Roman baths and are very popular with the locals who visit them at least once a week as these serve meeting places as well. They include a lot of hot water and scrubbing but not so much steam as, say Turkish baths. Most are segregated; there are different visiting hours for men and women. The authentic hammams are located in the medina. The touristy and more luxury ones are found in better hotels.
Beach Clubs are popular complexes, many of which are located on the upmarket beach district of Ain Diab, which features one of the cleanest beaches on the Atlantic coast. The Beach Clubs offer swimming pools, bars, restaurants and sport facilities including tennis and volleyball courts, some even have golf courses and dance clubs.
The largest mosque in Morocco and the second largest in the world, boasting the world’s tallest minaret (at 210 meters), was a gift to King Hassan II for his 60th birthday. The mosque is a recent acquisition, inaugurated in 1989; it boasts a beautiful interior, stunning tile work and a sliding roof that opens to the sky. Half of the building stands over the Atlantic and the sea can be seen through the glass floor. The complex also features a museum, a hammam in the basement, a library, a Koranic school and conference facilities. The huge mosque can accommodate 100,000 worshippers, and is the largest mosque outside Saudi Arabia. It is open to non-Muslim visitors as well and several tours are available daily.
Medina is the old traditional town that is still partly walled, where whitewashed stone and brick houses are interlaced with narrow streets lined with many little shops selling an endless number of wares.
The waterfront is located west of the Hassan II mosque, and is home to hotels, nightclubs, cafes, numerous seafood restaurants and food chains, as well as movie theaters. Sitting down at one of the ocean-view cafes is an excellent way to relax and soak up the atmosphere.
THE SHRINE OF SIDI ABDERRAHMAN
The shrine is built on a rock which makes it accessible only at low tide. The site is off limits to non-Muslims but anyone can explore the small medina surrounding it. A nice place to see the shrine is from the Corniche.
Explore the piers of the modern port of Casablanca and enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the several seafood restaurants located in the area or luxury shopping at the Centre 2000.
PARC DE LA LIQUE ARABE
The beautiful park was designed by A. Laparde in 1919 and lies south of Place Mohamed V. It is surrounded by beautiful art deco and art nouveau buildings. Stroll down its tree-lined walkways to admire the gardens and find a spot of peace in the busy metropolis.
This majestic Kasbah (fortress castle) is located just south of Casablanca, in the bend of the Wadi Oum er- Rbia river. It was built in 1717 by Moulay Ismail to provide stability in the area. The complex, encircled by picturesque, thick walls features the sultan’s palace and central courtyard, decorated with beautifully detailed mosaic work. The tower provides a great view of the surrounding area.
Casablanca is a great place to go out for a bite to eat. It has a wide range of eateries, ranging from cheap local seafood restaurants to fine French cuisine. Restaurants serve Moroccan, African, Middle Eastern, Asian and European food and French is a favorite. Western fast food chains are also widely available. The best place to look for the seafood restaurants is along the Corniche.
Moroccan cuisine is varied and interesting, spicy and heavily influenced by Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Some of the common traditional dishes are tagine (spicy meat stew), couscous, pastille (layers of dough with spiced meat and almond-paste filling), and harira (lentil and pea soup).
Address: 121 Ibnou Faris,Maarif
Clean, affordable eatery and coffee shop serving Moroccan fare.
Address: Centre 2000 (shopping complex)
Casablanca’s best Asian restaurant serving Chinese and Japanese food at affordable prices.
Address: Rue Vizir Tazi
Imilchi serves the best Moroccan food in town. Recommended dishes are Pastilla and Mechoui.
The festival features local arts and music, and takes place in various pubic spaces in the city, both indoor and outdoor. These include cinemas, beaches, squares and streets. The festival also features known international artists and musicians.
Urban Culture on Stage
Date: March Location: Zafzaf cultural centre
The festival features young artists from all over Morocco, performing rap, hiphop and fusion.
Boulevard des Jeunes Musiciens
The music festival features local young musicians playing pop, rock and hiphop music. It also hosts international performers.
Casablanca is not particularly a party destination, nevertheless some venues can be found downtown, particularly on the Corniche and in Ain Diab, where jazz clubs, piano bars, tapas bars and pubs with live bands or belly dancing shows are located.
BARS & CLUBS
If you want to drink alcohol, look for the European-style restaurants and hotel bars, which are stocked with alcohol and have a more relaxed attitude towards liquor. Bars close quite early, and nightclubs usually operate from 11:00 pm to 3:00 am.
There are several clubs and restaurants located in hotels, for example in Hyatt Regency Hotel, Hotel El Kandara, Hotel Sheraton, Hotel Melia Riad Salam, Toubkal Hotel, Hotel Safir, Hotel Suisse, and Royal Mansour Meridien. In addition the Maarif and Gironde areas also feature several western-style nightclubs.
Address: Rue Mohammed 5
A Spanish tapas bar with good food, nice music and pleasant service.
Address: 33 Bd. de la Corniche
Casablanca’s best bet for dancing.
Address: 248 Bd. Sour Jdid, Place du Jardin Public Phone: (022) 221 200)
This lively restaurant appeared in the 1942 movie Casablanca. It is located in an old mansion in the Medina and features belly dancing shows in the summer.
Casablanca also has a few movie theaters scattered around the city. Davliz Habous downtown, Davliz Corniche on the Corniche, Cinema Rif on the Av. Des F.A.R., the Empire located on Av. Mohammad V, Lusitania on Rue Tata and the Lynx, on Av. Mers Sultan.
Cultural Sidi Belyout is a complex with a program filled with music, theater and dance performances. The Centre Culturel Francais offers films, concerts, recitals, exhibitions and a library.
The area where Casablanca stands today is believed to have already been settled by the Berbers as early as the 10th century B.C. They eventually established a village called Anfa. During the 7th century B.C. the port was used by the Phoenicians and in the 1st century B.C. it was used by the Romans.
During the 14th and 15th centuries the port gained prominence under the Marinid Dynasty who built a Muslim town where Anfa previously stood. The town was home to pirates who attacked as far north as towns on the coast of Portugal.
In 1468 the Portuguese retaliated, demolishing the town. In 1515 they rebuilt the town and constructed a military fortress. The settlement was called Casa Branca –white house in Portuguese. After the 1755 earthquake destroyed the entire settlement, the Portuguese abandoned it.
In 1770 Anfa was rebuilt by sultan Mohammed ben Abdullah, naming it Dar el Beidain – which remains the city’s Arabic name today. It was renamed Casablanca when Spanish companies arrived in 1781.
The 19th century saw major activity in Casablanca’s port as Morocco became the chief exporter of wool to Britain and in turn, importing large quantities of tea. During the 1830s the city saw a massive influx of European migrants.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
In 1907 the city was attacked by the French and by 1912 they had occupied Morocco and turned it into a French protectorate. During WW II Casablanca served as a strategic port as well as the site of a large American air base. It also hosted the Casablanca Conference in 1943.
In 1956 Morocco gained independence. The city faced some economic problems at first but soon recuperated as the country’s commercial and industrial center.
Today the city is developing its tourism industry. As Morocco’s most cosmopolitan city it also leads in terms of social change. There are less veiled women than elsewhere in the country, especially among the upper classes.
Unfortunately, Casablanca is also home to a large population living below the poverty line in the slums, where drugs, prostitution and crime reign.
When Moroccans meet they take time and talk about their families, friends and other general topics. A Moroccan handshake is weaker than a westerner would be used to. When a relationship is established you may kiss on both cheeks, starting with the left. When a man and a woman shake hands, the woman must be the first to extend her hand. If she does not, the man only bows his head in greeting.
Eating & Visiting:
Eating with hands is an old tradition. Eat with the right hand and only use the thumb and the first two fingers. If invited to someone’s home, be careful not to admire something too much, as your hosts will most often feel obliged to present you the object. This is the Arab fear of the ‘evil eye’. The envied object is given away to deter jealousy. When invited to a Moroccan home, always bring a gift: sweet pastries, figs, nuts, dates or flowers. Giving and receiving gifts, as well as eating and shaking hands should always be done with the right hand, as the left is deemed unclean.
Morocco is a Muslim country so limit swimwear and other revealing clothes to beaches and hotel pools. Women are advised to wear conservative clothes as this way they are less likely to attract unwanted attention. Respect religious customs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking are not allowed during daylight hours and should be practiced in discretion. Note that homosexuality is considered a criminal offence and so is sex outside marriage. Both are punishable by law.
Casablanca is a sprawling metropolis but not unduly dangerous. Practice general precaution and do not parade valuables in public and carry only a small amount of cash.
Pick-pocketing, purse snatching and theft from vehicles stopped in traffic are all a possibility but these crimes take place mainly in crowded areas such as markets, transportation centers, parks and beaches. The northern part of the city is the safest and not coincidentally, where all the tourist attractions are centered. Keep vigilant in the area around Hassan II Mosque and do not wander there at night. Do not wander into the suburban slum areas. Avoid badly lit alleys anywhere.
Do not use the taxis waiting at the train station, as these tend to over-inflate their prices. Fake guides are less common than in other Moroccan cities, but they nevertheless operate in the Old Medina. Women are advised to dress modestly to avoid harassment and unwanted attention.