French Colonial Art Deco in North Africa with All the Usual Suspects
If the makers of that famous 1942 Casablanca movie had stuck with calling it Everyone Goes to Rick’s, most people would never have heard of North Africa’s largest port.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot, when it comes to remembering them. Lisbon was also considered for this wartime story of romance and international intrigue. Everyone Goes to Rick’s was the original title, and Rick’s Café was actually modelled on a hotel bar in Tangier. But it was the catchy Casablanca that hit the spot. Thanks to an enterprising former American diplomat, Casablanca finally got its own Rick’s Café in 2004, with a cast of ‘all the usual suspects’.
Casablanca City is rather like a too-famous film star with an interesting past and a reputation to keep up, who survives by reinventing herself over the years. Its strategic location, on a large double bay with a good natural harbour on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, south-east of the Straits of Gibraltar, meant that it was always going to attract attention.
For Early Casablanca, Round Up of All the Usual Suspects
First to arrive were the desert Berber people in the 7th century who founded a fishing port they called Anfa. This is remembered in various street and place names around the town today, but when the inhabitants of Anfa turned to piracy and the slave trade, the Portuguese, followed by the Spanish, felt obliged to subdue, fortify and rename the town as Casablanca, a translation of its Arabic name meaning ‘white house’.
A bad earthquake in 1755 dislodged the Spanish and demolished much of their work, and its reconstruction was ordered by a local sultan later that century. The British contribution was the introduction of ‘gunpowder tea’, but taken in the traditional way, in a glass, with sugar, no milk. This became the national drink, often jokingly offered as ‘Moroccan whisky’.
French Colonial Art Deco Legacy in Casablanca City Centre
Eventually, it was the French who seized control at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920’s and 30s, they set about making the city live up to its name in a burst of spectacular white Art Deco and Hispano-Mauresque town planning.
Casablanca City centre has many stylish, gleaming white buildings, with wide, tree-lined boulevards, gardens and parks and stately squares.
A smattering of French helps visitors to make sense of the town.
The ambience is southern Mediterranean, with sidewalk cafés, good restaurants, patisseries and juiceries.
Coffee and continental breakfasts are as popular as Moroccan tea and local cuisine.
Boulevarde de la Corniche is Casablanca’s famous scenic coast road leading to both public and exclusive private beaches.
Nightlife hotspots (limited elsewhere in Morocco) are mainly in the beach areas of Miami Plage and Ain Diab, and don’t forget Rick’s Café.
Strolling is popular, but parking is difficult, so taking a red ‘petit taxi’ is a good way to get around.
After Casablanca Movie, Casablanca City Reasserts its North African Identity
Since independence in 1956, Casablanca has remained open to cosmopolitan influences while at the same time becoming more aware of its Arab-Islamic identity.
King Hassan II commissioned the monumental Grand Mosque named after him from a French architect.
Finished in 1993, it dominates the city skyline with the world’s tallest minaret.
Visitors are asked to dress in a manner respectful of Islamic sensibilities in town, especially during Ramadan, but the atmosphere is not repressive.
The present king’s wife appears unveiled on television and champions women’s causes.
People will often offer to help strangers, in French or English.
While Casablanca is now mainly seen as the commercial and business hub of Morocco, steps are being taken to encourage tourism. Even a brief glance at this city’s fascinating past goes a long way to making a stay in today’s new Casablanca a really enjoyable experience.