For many travelers, Casablanca is a crossroads – it is somewhere to change planes or to take a train to one of Morocco’s other famous destinations, such as Tangier, Fez or Marrakesh. However, if you ever find yourself passing through the city, it is well worth spending some time to get to know it better. This is the largest city in Morocco, and is the beating cosmopolitan heart of the country.
For many, Casablanca comes as a complete surprise. Unlike the Bohemian atmosphere of Tangier, or the medieval grandeur of Fez, this is a completely modern city, dominated by glorious Art Nouveau buildings and striking public spaces. Casablanca is home to warm beaches, hip clubs and fashion – a contemporary metropolis that is proud of its achievements and wealth.
No visit to Casablanca is complete without taking in the splendors of the Hassan II Mosque, a truly marvelous centerpiece to the city. This is the second largest mosque in the world, and has a 200-meter minaret that dominates the skyline. The idea of building the mosquewas first raised by King Hassan II in 1980, and it was completed in 1993 at a cost of more than $750 million. More than 6000 craftsman toiled on the building, using materials such as marble and cedar wood almost entirely sourced from Morocco – Venetian glass was the only imported material that was used. Not only is this a stunning place of worship, it is also a high-tech wonder – it has heated flooring, a roof that can be retracted and even a laser on the top of its minaret that points toward Mecca.
If you are thinking of staying in Casablanca for a while, the city also has everything you would expect of a modern city when it comes to hotels. One good place to stay is the Sheraton Casablanca, which is located in the heart of the city and can be booked through Royal Holiday. This includes a number of excellent restaurants, offering both Moroccan and French cuisine, as well as authentic Asian fare. Alternatively, stay at the Hotel Transatlantique, an elegant 1920s establishment that has character in abundance.
If you stay at the Hotel Transatlantique, take a few minutes to stroll down to the Marche Central, where you can find fresh fish that were swimming in the blue waters of the Mediterranean only a few hours previously. While you are in the area, pay a visit to the Rialto Cinema, a fixture in the area since 1930. While the cinema was used primarily for showing movies, it also played host to luminaries of the musical stage including Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf.
Finally, don’t forget to pay a visit to Rick’s Café. While the bar where Humphrey Bogart famously never said “Play it again, Sam” never really existed, there is a re-creation at the harbor near to the old Medina. This is a popular attraction, and is faithful to the watering hole in the 1942 movie. Don’t forget to let someone know if you spot Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines or Peter Lorre – while they have all left us now, the atmosphere in the bar is almost enough to bring them back to life.