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General Information

So you have your "letters of transit" in order, and are heading off to Casablanca to have a cocktail at Rick's Café Américain, and see the intrigue unfold before your very eyes? Sorry to say, Casablanca's charms, though vivid, aren't very much like the movie picture. Not that there's anything wrong with that, by any means, as you will see.

If you've been to other Moroccan towns already, then Casablanca might just be a relief, and if you haven't, be patient, for you'll get to experience the nitty-gritty of the country soon enough. Casablanca itself is almost thoroughly modern, having outgrown its past as a Berber village in the 12th century and a pirates' cove in the 15th. The Portuguese routed the pirates, and then later (in 1515) built a new town called Casa Branca (White House). In the scope of the city's history, they didn't stay long, abandoning it city in 1755 after an earthquake. Finally the Sultan Sidi Muhammed rebuilt it in the late 18th century, and the real continuity of the city dates from then. Spanish traders called it Casablanca, but it was under the French Protectorate from 1912-1956 that the city really began to grow and flourish. What you see now is the city that developed during that time.

Casablanca's role as a major port of call meets you right at the waterfront; the Boulevard Hansali, which leads to the port, is aimed right at the tourist, being full of shops. You can spend some money there, but it might be better to wait until you see what's available elsewhere, in the new and the old quarters of the city.

If you decide against just lying around on the beach, the old city, called the Medina, is just bit inland from the port, still surrounded in part by its low, crumbling walls. It's a tangle of streets and whitewashed houses, and at least here you'll get a shot of the atmosphere the movie made you crave. The market here is good for all sorts of Moroccan handicrafts, from embroidered shirts and djellabas (long, flowing garments with full sleeves and hoods that you'll notice some locals wearing), to hammered brass goods, leather, and more modern wares. Be warned, the ancient and honorable art of haggling is still an essential part of the buying process, so be prepared to spend a little time on each purchase, and never accept the first price. A little basic French comes in handy as well.

The old town is fairly small; that leaves you time to visit the two other main areas worth seeing in town - the old colonial quarter, and the new city. The French town surrounds the Medina, and the new city is just beyond that, fortunately presenting itself to you in a very straightforward way. The colonial area is fairly extensive, and full of the whitewashed architecture the French called "Moresque" (their take on Moorish) with soft lines and much detail, and a strong jolt of Art Deco to top it off. The corner buildings are especially fine, their facades resembling ships' prows. The atmosphere may strike you as an odd mixture of Paris and Arabia. The United Nations Plaza is especially impressive and atmospheric, with particularly grand buildings.

It's worth ducking into the Marché Central (Central Market) nearby, a high-class suq (bazaar) whose wares are offered to the locals, to catch a glimpse of the everyday life of the city. It's essentially a foodstuffs market, but there are handicrafts there as well. It's lively and vivid. If you had a place to cook, you could even buy a couple of turtles, for soup.

Casablanca is, alas, short on monuments, having basically only one to offer; but that one almost makes up for the paucity of others: the Hassan II Mosque. It was constructed by king Hassan II and is the world's second largest mosque, having space for 100,000 worshipers. Its minaret stands almost six hundred feet tall. Even though it was built according to kingly decree, it was financed entirely through public donations.

Leaving the French colonial quarter and traversing the new city, the Parisian influence continues, with broad boulevards spreading like spokes of a wheel from large plazas. Here you'll see the modernity of the town, with banks, hotels, and especially large, modern shops appearing on the urban landscape. If you don't trust your haggling skills, these then are the places to shop. The more westernized restaurants are also here, if you want a sit-down meal with real silverware. Some of the more upscale cuisine offered in the restaurants here would include dishes like pastilla, filo pastry stuffed with pigeons and almonds, or mechoui, roasted lamb. Another alternative is to head back to the Old Town, and have some tagine, a stew (named after the kind of pot it's cooked in) whose ingredients vary with the cook and the season, the national dish of Morocco. In some cul-de-sacs, tiny, dark eateries situated side by side will put the tagines on display outside, so you can pick the house specialty that appeals to you the most. Eaten with couscous, the grain-like pasta, and washed down with that other Moroccan staple - mint tea - it's filling and delicious, and a great way to round out your Casablanca experience.

So, although it's short on the mysterious and exotic, you'll see that Casablanca still has plenty to offer in the way of the Moroccan version of the modern and beautiful.

General Information

POPULATION

Casablanca bustles with the 3,200,000 people.

PORT

The busy commercial harbor is man made, and protected by a breakwater. It handles the majority of Morocco's foreign trade.

CLIMATE

The climate of Casablanca is hot and arid. Temperatures in the 90s are common.

LANGUAGE

Arabic, French, and some English.

CURRENCY

Moroccan dirham.



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