|"Play it again Sam."|
by Fodor's Travel Guide to Morocco
Casablanca is Morocco's most modern city, and various groups of people call it home: hardworking Berbers who came north from the Souss Valley to make their fortune; older folks raised on French customs during the protectorate; pious Muslims; wealthy business executives in the prestigious neighborhoods called California and Anfa; new and poor arrivals from the countryside, living in shantytowns; and thousands of others from all over the kingdom who have found jobs here. The city has its own stock exchange, and working hours tend to transcend the relaxed pace kept by the rest of Morocco.
True to its Spanish name--casa blanca. "white house," which, in turn, is Dar el-Beida in Arabic--Casablanca is a conglomeration of white buildings. The present city, known colloquially as Casa or El Beida, was only founded in 1912. It lacks the ancient monuments that resonate in Morocco's other major cities; however, there are still some landmarks, including the famous Hassan II Mosque.
Hassan II Mosque
Casablanca's skyline is dominated by this massive edifice. No matter where you are, you're bound to see it thanks to its attention-grabbing green-tile roof. The building's foundations lie partly on land and partly in the sea, and at one point you can see the water through a glass floor. The main hall holds an astonishing 25,000 people and has a retractable roof so that it can be turned into a courtyard. The minaret is more than 650 feet high, and the mezzanine floor (which holds the women's section, about 6 feet above the main floor) seems dwarfed by the nearly 200-foot-high ceiling. Still, the ceiling's enormous painted decorations appear small and delicate from below.
At the edge of the new medina, the Quartier des Habous is a curiously attractive mixture of French colonial architecture with Moroccan details built by the French at the beginning of the 20th century. Capped by arches, its shops surround a pretty square with trees and flowers. As you enter the Habous, you'll pass a building resembling a castle; this is the Pasha's Mahkama, or court, completed in 1952. The Mahkama formerly housed the reception halls of the Pasha of Casablanca, as well as a Muslim courthouse; it's currently used for district government administration. On the opposite side of the square is the Mohammed V Mosque—although not ancient, this and the 1938 Moulay Youssef Mosque, in the adjacent square, are among the finest examples of traditional Maghrebi (western North African) architecture in Casablanca. Look up at the minarets and you might recognize a style used in Marrakesh's Koutoubia Mosque and Seville's Giralda. Note also the fine wood carving over the door of the Mohammed V. The Habous is well known as a center for Arabic books; most of the other shops here are devoted to rich displays of traditional handicrafts aimed at locals and tourists. This is the best place in Casabalanca to buy Moroccan handicrafts. You can also buy traditional Moroccan clothes such as kaftans and djellabas (long, hooded outer garments). Immediately north of the Habous is Casablanca's Royal Palace. You can't go inside, but the outer walls are pleasing; their sandstone blocks fit neatly together and blend well with the little streets at the edge of the Habous.
Place Mohammed V
Need a break?
If you follow the Cornish to its southwestern edge, you will see the tomb of Sidi Abderrahman, a Sufi saint, just off the coast on a small island. Moroccans come to this shrine if they are sick or if they feel they need to rid themselves of evil spirits. It is accessible only at low tide, at which point you can simply walk to the small conglomeration of white houses, built practically one on top of the other, along the sandy beach. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the tiny island and have their futures told by an in-resident fortune-teller, although access to the shrine itself is prohibited. On the corniche, just in front of the tomb, you can enjoy some snails and Moroccan mint tea, along with the locals.
Situated within an 18th-century Portuguese fortress. La Sqala enchants with its beautiful garden. patio. greenery. and fountains. It may serve the best Moroccan breakfast in town. and if you want a quick snack while sightseeing. the pastries and mint tea are a great bet. La Sqala also serves lunch and dinner. offering a perfect mix of traditional but tasteful Moroccan design and atmosphere coupled with yummy Moroccan salads and tagines.
After strolling along the Corniche. relax on the trendy Venezia's terrace and enjoy one of their 60 flavors of ice creams and sorbets.