What Travel Writers Say

Casablanca, not just a great movie

© By Habeeb Salloum
  Mosque interior The first suggestion a host offers to visiting friends when planning a sightseeing itinerary of Casablanca, Morocco's top commercial and industrial centre, is the King Hassan II Mosque. This newly built Islamic house of worship towers above Casablanca's old medina (Arab type town) like a guardian angel. From the air, the mosque dominates this modern, wealthy city with a population of 5,000,000. Filled with wide tree-lined boulevards, ritzy shops, splendid villas, dazzling white buildings and littered slums, Casablanca, with its stunning architectural beauty and its new symbol has come a long way since the days of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
     The city was founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th Century BC and was subsequently used by the Phoenicians, Romans, and the Merenids as a strategic port called Anfa, but it remained a backwater for hundreds of years. From the 16th to the 18th century, for a period of 180 years, the Portuguese occupied the city 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 its current name of 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.
     In 1921, the French built a new medina called Al Habous. At the same time, the harbour was expanded until eventually Casablanca became the largest port in Africa. National and international businesses set up offices in the city and an impressive expansion, which has never slowed down, was put into motion, creating a huge metropolis, bursting at the seams. Post Office Today, it is the largest and chief industrial city in North Africa. Here is where international business dealings take place and where 60% of Moroccan companies are based.
     On the other hand, one can still discover the spirit of old Morocco in the medina, the original Casablanca. Surrounded by exotic souks and overflowing with Moroccan handicrafts, it is only a few minutes' walk from Place Mohammad V. From Place Mohammad V all the main thoroughfares fan out. Along their edges, luxurious hotels, restaurants, myriad shops and pedestrian only malls filled with humanity transform the area into the throbbing heart of the city.
     One of these avenues, Hassan II, leads to Place des Nations Unies, the largest and most attractive square in the city. On one side are located the main post office, the Palace of Justice and an attractive theatre - all built in the appealing Andalusian-Moorish style. On the other, is a huge luminous fountain whose splashing waters produce the colours of the rainbow. Nearby is the eye-catching Arab League Park with its hundreds of towering palms. The whole area, built during the French era, is a modern version of Morocco's traditional magnificent structures.
     A short taxi ride away is the new medina (Al-Habous), famous for its Mahkama (Court of Justice) built in the exquisite Andalusian-Moorish style; the rambling Royal Palace; and the Joutiya - a large colourful handicraft market where top artisan products can be found.
     For fun and relaxation, past Hassan's Mosque is the Corniche with its fine beaches. The heart of the area is Ain Diab, crowded with hotels, sidewalk cafes, nightclubs and excellent restaurants where travellers linger over tasty meals in dream-like settings. The upper class residential section of Anfa with wide flowery avenues and attractive gardens is edged by some of the choice villas and palaces to be found in Morocco. Here, as in all other parts of the city, language is no problem. Everyone, even the children, speak at least two or three tongues - an ideal atmosphere for businessmen and tourists alike.

Mall  Modern Street  New Medina Olives & Preserved Lemons  Old City Ceranics  Old City Pictures For Sale  King Hassan II Mosque  King Hassan II Mosque

Facts About Casablanca and Morocco:
  1. Nationals of most countries do not need visas - only valid passports.
  2. If you know French, it is easy to get around. Almost everyone speaks French, but a good number also know English.
  3. Unit of currency in Morocco is the dirham. It fluctuates at around 8 to a U.S. dollar. Euros are now usually used in Morocco - 1 euro fluctuates at around 11 dirhams. Exchange money at banks or hotels - rates are almost all the same with no commission.
  4. Restaurants and other food outlets are inexpensive. One can eat a complete meal from $8-$15 U.S. in good restaurants. In top restaurants meals cost $15 and up.
  5. The hustlers who once infested the tourist spots have been greatly diminished by law. A few remain.
  6. Tips are expected for every service; always carry small change.
  7. Bargain for all tourist items; never shop with a guide as his cut is about 30%.
  8. At night, avoid dark alleyways. Morocco is safer than many other countries, but muggers still stalk the lonely streets.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.

Photo Credits
Habeeb Salloum

If you go
Casablanca, Morocco
as seen on
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casablanca
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Casablanca
Visit Morocco: http://www.visitmorocco.com/index.php/eng
Moroccan National Tourist Office: Suite 1460, 2001 rue University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada HA 2A6
Tel: +1 514 842 8111/2. Fax: +1 514 842 5316
Moroccan Tourist Office: 20 East 46th St., Suite 1201, New York, NY 10017
Tel.: 212-557-2520. Fax: 212-949-8148. Web Site: http://www.tourism-in-morocco.com/

Mohammed V Int'l Airport is the busiest gateway to the country and is well-connected to Europe. Royal Air Maroc flies to New York JFK, many cities in Europe, and has connecting flights to African countries such as Nigeria, Central African Republic, Senegal, and others. To get from the Airport into Casablanca or vice versa, take the train to/from Casa Voyageurs station which is on the outskirts of town and then a fairly long walk or petit taxi (8 DH at time of writing) into the centre.

Barcelo Casablanca Hotel: located in the heart of the city; offers fantastic views of King Hassan Mosque and the sea.
Tel: +212 522 208000. Fax: +212 522 207020. E-mail: casablanca@barcelo.com Average price per day $175.00.
Hôtel Les Saisons: this 4-star hotel is ideal for businessmen. Tel: 022 49.09.01/27. Fax: 022 48.16.97.
Cost of room - Bed & Breakfast $110. - Ask for corporate rate discount.
Ibis Moussafir Hotel Casablanca: located in the city centre, just 100 m from the railway station; this 3-star hotel is new and reasonably priced. Tel: 212/22/401984. Cost for room $68. and up per day.

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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