Prior to the outbreak of Covid19, I was fortunate to visit Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, which welcomes hordes of visitors attracted by the mild climate and the opportunity to take a fascinating glimpse into a vibrant culture and colorful history, dating back to the 7th century BC.
Large numbers of visitors arrive by sea, sailing into the Port of Casablanca, which was once a trading post for the Phoenicians and then the Romans and it is now one of the largest artificial ports in the world.
During the Middle Ages, the city fell under the rule of the Merinids, the Portuguese, and the Spanish until an earthquake devastated much of the area in 1755. Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdallah, an ally to George Washington, was responsible for reinforcing the city’s ramparts in 1770 and it was then named Casa Blanca in Spanish, which translates to ‘white house’. In the 1800’s Casablanca’s port became a hive of activity as a result of the rapid growth of the British textile industry. The people of Casablanca prospered greatly due to the increase in demand for Moroccan wool and the local population steadily increased. In 1906 French colonialists arrived and colonization was complete in only four years. By the 1940s almost half of the population were European, and this is reflected in the unforgettable film Casablanca, released in 1942 and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The film, which depicts the colonial influence on the city, won three Academy Awards and is widely considered one of the greatest films.
During WW11 the city of Casablanca played a central role as a strategic port and the location of an American air base. Independence from France was achieved in 1956 and Casablanca is now the economic and business capital of Morocco. Tourism numbers continue to grow and one of the main attractions drawing the crowds is the magnificent Hassan II Mosque, designed in 1980 by the talented French architect Michel Pinseau. Elaborately designed mosaics, marble flooring, and colorful ceilings create quite an impact on the viewer. This imposing building is the largest mosque in North Africa and the towering minaret is said to be the tallest in the world.
For a tranquil spot in this bustling city, visit the Casablanca Cathedral, Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is located on Parc de la Ligue Arabe. Built-in 1930, features include the beautiful stained-glass windows, which reflect a myriad of vivid colors throughout the white interior. To view another selection of architectural gems, take a leisurely stroll along Mohammed V Place and you’ll come across a charming building known as the Villa des Arts. Built-in the 1930s, it reflects the elegance of the Art Deco style beautifully. I was able to see one of the villa’s temporary art exhibitions, which gives local artists the opportunity to display their works to the public.
Feeling a trifle weary after my explorations I headed for the Four Seasons hotel, located on Anfa Place Living Resort, Boulevard De La Corniche. The property lies between the Atlantic Ocean and a residential neighborhood, which features stylish villas, bustling cafes, and the popular Anfa place shopping center; an ideal spot for those of us who can easily spend an afternoon browsing around high-end boutiques.
Hotel accommodations are spacious and modern and include the gorgeous Royal Suite, measuring 4,220 sq. ft. with mesmerizing 180-degree oceanfront views. The large, plush living room features elegant and comfy sofas, and the dining room provides seating for eight guests. The ultra-chic bathroom includes a tub facing the ocean, and relaxing in the comfort of warm bubbles, whilst listening to the waves crashing on the shore is simply wonderful.
The Old Medina is only a short taxi ride away and it’s the place where dedicated bargain hunters gather to wander around the meandering alleyways and browse along the maze of stalls where every kind of colorful trinket is prominently displayed. Don’t miss the copperware stalls and stop for a while to admire the work of the local craftsmen creating the most attractive teapots, lamps, and trays. You will notice the enticing aroma of coffee hanging in the air and be tempted to indulge in a local pastry or two but for those seeking an outstanding dining experience, it has to be Rick’s Cafe on Boulevard Sour Jdid, one kilometer away.
The style and romance of the classic film Casablanca have been captured in this delightful restaurant and piano bar. As you are shown to your table you may notice intriguing characters seated at the beautiful, sculptured bar, sipping on cocktails amidst the palm fronds sweeping over the curved white arches. Note the little table lamps, dressed in glittering beading flooding light across the striking chequered floor. The strains of the piano fill the air and a frenzy of handsome waiters wearing fezzes serve the most delicious dishes. Be sure to sample the Moroccan figs in balsamic vinegar with goat’s cheese; perfectly accompanied by a glass or two of chilled Pouilly Fuisse Vielles Vignes. For a far more casual affair visit Le Local on Boulevard Ain Taoujtate. This is where the ‘in crowd’ gathers to feast on tasty burgers, hotdogs, and pizzas. Sports games are shown on screens dotted around the venue and the rhythm and blues ‘live’ bands in the evenings will get the most resistant toes tapping. And before you retire for the evening, join the locals and take a leisurely stroll along the Boulevard de la Corniche, admire the ocean view, stop by one of the many cafés and order a cool glass of freshly squeezed fruit juice. As the sun sets over the ocean, you’re sure to be captivated.