Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. Being an economic and business hub, it lacks the magic of other Moroccan imperial cities. Travelers who are short on time, often decide to skip Casablanca. This 2nd installment of “highlights of Morocco” might be able to change your mind from excluding this beautiful city from your Morocco itinerary.
A few words on Casa Blanca:
Berbers founded Casablanca in 7th century BC. Then, it was known as “Anfa.” Anfa pirates were a menace for Portuguese trading ships. To neutralize these threats, the Portuguese eventually attacked the city, and in 15th Century AD, they took control of Anfa. They named it Casa Branca - “the white house.” After Iberian Union, the city was renamed with the Spanish version, Casa Blanca. The devastating Lisbon earthquake took a heavy toll on the kingdom of Portugal, and they decided to abandon the colony. Subsequently, sultan Mohammed Ben Abdullah resettled in the town, and it is under the control of Alaouite kings since then.
In modern times, Michael Curtiz has a notable role in establishing this city as an emerging tourist attraction of Morocco. He was the director of 1942 Classic “Casablanca.” “Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake.” Ingrid Bergman was asking Sam to play “As Time Goes By.” In the movie, this iconic scene took place at Rick’s cafe, and it made Rick’s cafe an obligatory stop for tourists visiting Casablanca. The funny thing is that Rick’s Cafe never existed except in the sets of Hollywood! The entire movie was shot in California. An American expat, Chris Kelley, wanted to revive the old classic and opened Rick’s cafe in 2004. Suddenly it became a top destination in TripAdvisor. Like all the tour companies, our tour also started with a customary photo stop at Rick’s Cafe. It looked like just another cafe from outside. Not sure whether it qualifies as an attraction at all!
The jewel of Casablanca:
Hassan II mosque: King Hassan II mosque is the 8th largest mosque in the world and can house up to 105,000 worshippers. Unlike most of the mosques around Morocco, non-muslims are permitted to visit the mosque with a guided tour. Tours are offered in different languages several times a day. Be aware that visiting time is different on Fridays, a holy day for Muslims.
Hassan II mosque is built partly on land, partly on the Atlantic ocean. The idea behind partially building it over the sea stemmed from a verse in the Qur’an that states, “the throne of Allah was built on water.” It took half a billion dollars, seven years, 35,000 workers, and 50 million hours to complete the mosque. It was a significant monetary undertaking for the Moroccan government, and they raised a substantial amount of money via a somewhat controversial public subscription.
Hassan II mosque is an architectural masterpiece. The confluence of Islam’s spirituality and traditional Moroccan architecture makes it such an elegant monument. It boasts an exquisite blending of ancient and modern Islamic designs. Morocco’s own rich history is reflected in different structures. The prayer hall is a replica of the Merenid Madrassa in Fez. Its minaret, second tallest in the world (only after the Great Mosque of Algiers) is inspired by Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Koutoubia Minaret in Marrakech. The green roof reminds of the Qarawiyyine University of Fez. This amalgamation of Berber, Mediterranean, Persian, African, and Andalusian architectural styles is a true celebration of Morocco’s vibrant heritage.
La Corniche and Mohammed V square were two other stops on our itinerary.
Mohammed V square, named after Mohammed V, sultan of Morocco in the 1900s, is a public square established at the beginning of French colonialism. It is also known as Pigeon square, as the place is packed with pigeons. The square is surrounded by Andalusian style buildings with noticeable Art Deco influences. Most of them house Moroccan administrative offices except the French consulate on the right-hand side of the square. The square was busy with vendors selling bird food, kids running around the pigeons, and tourists. At the time of our visit, the central part of the square was under renovation, and the sight was not as spectacular as I imagined from pictures in travel brochures.
La Corniche is a promenade that runs along the coast of the Atlantic ocean. It offers beautiful views of the Hassan II mosque in the backdrop of the Atlantic. A lovely Moroccan meal, while marveling at the beauty of the Hassan II mosque and listening to the waves of the Atlantic is the perfect way to end the Casablanca trip. My recommendation: Fish Tagine at Tropicana.
Casablanca was our first pit stop in a 2-week long Morocco trip. It is a big metropolis and does not exude the mystical vibe other Moroccan cities offer. Still, the magnificent Hassan II mosque and cool breeze of Atlantic at La Corniche was the perfect start for our Moroccan adventure.
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