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A Day Trip to Casablanca

Updated: Mar 9, 2022


Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco in the central-western part with a population of over 3 million. Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, it is Morocco’s main port.

The city dates back to the 8th Century when Berbers, the indigenous people of Morocco, made it their capital and called it Anfa. It is believed to be one of the most prosperous cities on the Atlantic coast, thanks to its fertile land. However the Portuguese invaded Morocco in the 15th century, and built a military fortress and renamed it as ‘Casa Branca’ meaning ‘White House’. When the Crown of Portugal was integrated into the Crown of Spain, it was renamed Casablanca (Spanish). The city was however abandoned by the Portuguese following a massive earthquake in the 18th century, which destroyed most of the city.

The city was rebuilt by Sultan Mohammed-ben-Abdallah and was called ad-Dar Al-Beida (Arab translation of White House). The city came under French occupation at the beginning of the 20th century. After Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, the city has become one of the largest financial centres in Africa.


Casablanca railway station


It is called ‘Casa’ by the locals. It isn’t really touristy and has more of a modern cosmopolitan feel to it. The city's colonial past is evident in its fusion of Moorish and European art deco styles in architecture.

But what gives Casablanca universal appeal is the classic 1942 movie ‘Casablanca’. It is Hollywood's timeless definition of love and romance, with beautiful performances from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Despite being set in Casablanca, none of the shots were filmed in the Kingdom of Morocco. Instead the film was shot entirely at Warner Bros. Studios in California with the exception of one sequence in Los Angeles. And of course there wasn’t any Rick’s Café- the cinematic gin joint in the movie- in reality in Casablanca!


Islamic artwork of Hassan II Mosque


It was later built by an American- Kathy Kriger, who decided to make a statement by investing in a Muslim country after leaving American diplomatic service after 9/11. With a timeless appeal of the movie Casablanca and the 'maginary' Rick’s Café, she was quick to spot the business opportunity of creating one for real! And she managed to got all the details to perfection. It is difficult to imagine that the Rick’s Café was actually built 62 years after the movie was released! It soon became a destination for tourists and locals. She was called ‘Madame Rick’ by the locals.

“If I’m honest, I always thought I would find a man while following my dream,” Ms. Kriger wrote in 2012 in a memoir about Rick’s. That didn’t happen, she said cheerfully. “Instead, with Rick looking over my shoulder, I found myself.” (www.nytimes.com). She passed away in 2018


Our train from Casablanca to Marrakech


Our visit to Casablanca was a last minute decision and therefore we hadn’t researched or planned our day like we usually do. Therefore we couldn’t really visit the inside of Hassan II Mosque or dine at Rick’s Café! The shops at the new medina were closed. But the grandeur of Hassan II Mosque even though only from outside, was worth the trip. Don’t expect this to be a dreamy touristy place… it is quite a modern cosmopolitan city.

Anyway we started our day very early and headed straight to station and bought first class tickets to Casablanca. It was a nice journey in a private coupe sipping coffee and looking out at the beautiful landscape.


Entry to Hassan II Mosque for traveller is only allowed as part of a guided tour


Hassan II Mosque – Just visiting this mosque justifies the travel to Casablanca. It was commissioned by King Hassan II, (hence the name) in memory of the departed King Mohammed V. It was designed by resident French Architect Michel Pinseau and does complete justice to the ambitious plans of King Hassan II to create the most impressive structure in Morocco. The mosque built partially on land and partially over the ocean looks as if emerging out of the Atlantic Ocean! Pinseau designed the building in such a way that it is able to endure earthquakes. The construction took 7 years to complete and was kind of a large scale employment opportunity to hundreds of workers and artisans. The minaret is the tallest in the world, standing at 210 meters and has lasers that shine in the direction of Mecca at night.


Islamic artwork of Hassan II Mosque


It is the probably one of the ten largest mosques of the world. The massive project is also therefore a fine example of engineering not only because it is built over land and water but also because it is built to endure earthquakes. It is no wonder therefore that it costed a fortune to build. The funding came through public donations. Up to 25,000 worshipers can be accommodated inside the mosque, it also includes modern features like heated floors, sliding roof and electric doors. The magnitude of the mosque, the unreal craftsmanship, the beauty of the archways, walls and the sprawling grounds and the overall explosion of colour and patterns make it a must see in Morocco.

Please remember however that non-Muslims are only allowed in the mosque as part of guided tours that take place throughout the day outside of prayer time. So plan ahead!


Empty Quartier Habous


Quartier Habous – Also called the New Medina, the Habous area was an endeavor by the French to mix Moroccan with French style. Near the New Medina is city palace of the King- you can linger around and look at the grand exterior- it is heavily guarded.

Before leaving Casablanca enjoy coffee in a local café. A visit to Rick’s café is on our list for next time!

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