Updated: Sep 14
Many people have only heard about Casablanca because of the Hollywood romance movie from 1942 with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman that revolves around a complicated love story that occurs at Rick’s café. This café located in Casablanca, Morocco turns out to be a safe haven for Ilsa and her husband who are escaping from the Nazis during World War II and with Rick’s help are receiving the opportunity to immigrate to America. You might not know this, but this story is actually based on the fact that Morocco did take in the Jews during World War II and offered them chances that other countries did not give them.
Where Is Casablanca and What Does It Mean?
Casablanca is one of the major cities of Morocco, a country located on the West side of North Africa. Literally, casa means white and blanca means house in Portuguese. And when you go there, you will see that over 90% of the houses and buildings are white. I have been there in 2008 myself.
Existing archives date back to 768 AD when the Berbers of the Kingdom of Bourguata founded today's Casablanca. Up until the 12th century it was a port village called Anfa (anfa means hill in Berber language) where scientists, soldiers and salesmen were thriving. With time the name Anfa was replaced with the Arabic words: Addar Albaida (White House). Under the rule of the Marinid Sultanate (Berber empire) the port village developed into a pirate’s base with sailors and pirates as inhabitants who also commerced with Spain and Portugal. When the Portuguese came in 1468 and saw the acts of piracy, they were angered, tore it down and left. In 1515, the Portuguese came back, built a fortress there and called it Casa Branca (White House) to make the location recognizable for others. Later in 1755, it became an abandoned place after being hit by a huge earthquake. In the late 18th century, under the Alevi state, it was rebuilt in 1770 by Sultan Muhammed III ben Abdullah who reigned between 1757 -1790. He kept the name Casablanca. Soon afterwards, Spanish merchants started settling here together with other European merchants and passed on the name Casablanca. In 1907, the French took over and occupied it.
Between the years 1912 and 1956, Casablanca was under the French protectorate which meant it was controlled by the French, who called it Maison Blanche (also means White House). During this time, the French outnumbered other European settlers and then French started to become the 2nd language of the country aside from Arabic. Fairly quickly, Casablanca established itself as the primary port of Morocco, developing and growing more and more into a metropolitan city. Especially, during World War II (1939-1945), Casablanca turned into a political hotspot for the British-US summit in 1943, when the Casablanca Conference took place. In 1961, Morocco gained independence from its French & Spanish influence and nominated their first king, King Hassan II who reigned up until 1999.
Modern Architecture & Lifestyle
Casablanca’s population ranges up to 3,7 million inhabitants and is culturally very diverse with Arabs, Berbers, French and Spanish people. Moreover, it is a very sophisticated city with a cosmopolitan atmosphere even if most visitors are more attracted to other cities in Morocco that offer traditional Moroccan culture: medieval architecture and bazaars, such as those you can find in Marrakech and Fez.
The only traditional part of Casablanca can be found in the Old Medina (medina means city in Arabic) which has been preserved as it was since the 16th century. This is where you see all the Moorish architecture and can visit the original Portuguese fortress. Seeing all the preserved parts of Morocco’s culture shows you how talented and intelligent the people are who contributed to developing this beautiful place since they maintained those memories of time and still were open to letting newer elements emerge into their society.
Besides the Old Medina, you have spots that look very European with the narrow alleys, cafés and loud clubs, while you also have the complete opposite: spots that are very calm, such as the huge Arab League Park with all its palm trees and then you have the exotic coastline that reminds you of islands, such as Cuba and Dominican Republic.
Casablanca is the most modern city of Morocco. It is the only city with skyscrapers due to representing an economic and business headquarters where all the banks, big companies, insurance companies and factories are located. Beyond that, it offers a space for creative minds, respectively, creative industries to evolve. Younger generations across Morocco are attracted to Casablanca because it offers so many financial opportunities for them. Moroccans in Casablanca tend to be very kind, funny and quite talkative people. They have so many stories to tell you and they are quickly willing to show you around their city if you ask them to.
Some Highlights for Visitors
As a visitor, you will need to rely on taxis, buses and trains if you want to get around. One of the must-see places to go to is the Hasan II mosque that partially stands on water and is located right on the shore. This mosque belongs to the 5th largest & most flamboyant mosques in the world. It took 7 years to build it from 1986 to 1993. The reason it is so remarkably beautiful is that you get a view on the Atlantic Ocean from inside the mosque. And if you are worried that they won’t let you in if you are not Muslim, don’t worry, they will, all you need to do is cover yourself a bit more out of respect.
To this day, many cultural events take place here, such as the Festival de Casablanca WeCasablanca, a popular music and cultural festival and Jazzablanca, the international Jazz festival. Even many Hollywood stars enjoy their vacations in Casablanca. Maybe one of the reasons is because its climate is very similar to that in Los Angeles.
When it comes to cuisine, Casablanca has many varieties to offer you. If you want traditional Moroccan drinks definitely try their traditional home-made mint tea. It is very tasty. Then you have tagine, a stew-like dish with meat, vegetables and spices that is cooked in a traditional ceramic vessel. Couscous is another typical Moroccan dish served with meat or fish and vegetables, such as potatoes, zucchini, carrots, squash and chick peas. Believe me, you won’t regret trying Moroccan food or even travelling there to see its beauty with your own eyes.