Casablanca: The Whitehouse of Morocco
Casablanca (Spanish for Whitehouse and also known as Casa or Dar el Baida) is located on the Atlantic Ocean, and is Morocco’s largest city as well as its chief port. It’s also the sixth largest city in Africa.
Casablanca may well have a thousand faces. With its wide boulevards of ultra-modern, art deco or Hispano-Moorish buildings, parks, squares, public fountains and sandy beaches along the Atlantic, Casablanca will soon seem familiar. It is a unique blend of east and west, a subtle balance between tradition and today.
Did you know?
- The area which is today Casablanca was settled by Berbers by at least the 7th century.
- Besides the title film with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca also features in the 12th Marx Brothers film A Night in Casablanca
- The Orthlieb Pool in Casablanca is the largest swimming pool in the world
- The King Hassan II Mosque is one of the largest in the world and the largest in Morocco, and has the tallest minaret on earth. It is one of two main mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims.
Casablanca’s main airport is Mohammed V International Airport (CMN), which is Morocco’s busiest. Regular domestic flights serve Marrakech, Rabat, Aqadir, Oujda, Tangier and Laayoune as well as other cities. The airport is 30 km south-east of Casablanca.
A shuttle train service operates from the airport to the Casablanca city center (45 minutes) and taxis are available outside the Arrivals area. There is also shuttle bus to Casablanca.
Moroccan Dirhams can only be obtained in Morocco. To avoid additional exchange rate surcharges, visitors should use traveller’s cheques in Canadian or US Dollars.
The most convenient way to obtain Dirhams is from banks or ATMs, where official rates apply. National currencies should be exchanged at banks or official bureaux de change only. Changing money in the street is illegal. Visitors will be issued with a receipt which must be retained in order to exchange Moroccan currency back into an original national currency upon departure.
Casablanca can be a year-round vacation destination. The most popular time to visit is during the warm months of July and August. Winter is the least popular time to go as it rains. The highest amount of rainfall occurs during December. Visiting during the spring, early summer, and fall seasons will offer pleasant weather and the fewest crowds.
Even though Casablanca is located along the Atlantic Ocean, the city experiences a climate similar to the Mediterranean, with mild weather throughout the year. Summers can be warm, with temperatures averaging in the upper 15sC. Spring and fall can be pleasant and cool, with average highs in the mid-12s to mid-15s.
In addition to the numerous World Heritage Sites (there are eight UNESCO Heritage Sites in Morocco), you will find a fascinating wealth of intriguing sights to visit, so prior to visiting, plan your days and time accordingly. And, prepare to be fascinated. With its majestically faded architecture and dusty colonial boulevards, Casablanca feels like a fossil of bygone days, which is exactly what makes it so enticing.
Here are just some of the highlights to see and do …
The Ancienne Medina is the name given to the old quarter of the town and is located just off the main town square. Here, visitors will find no end of historic buildings as well as a busy market area where local food delicacies can be sampled and souvenirs can be purchased to take home to family and friends. If it’s the Casablanca of the old Humphrey Bogart movie that you are looking for, then this is the where you will find it …
When visiting Casablanca you won’t want to miss the Hassan II Mosque, the largest in the country. Its tower, 200m high, is the tallest minaret in Morocco. Spectacular for its size and the Moorish and art deco lines of the architecture, the Hassan II Mosque is the only Islamic sacred place that is open to non Muslim visitors. Guided tours are available.
The Jewish Museum of Casablanca is the city’s only museum and the only Jewish museum in a Muslim country anywhere in the world. The museum represents important information about the Moroccan Jewish community’s heritage. There are some 5000 Jewish people living in Morocco and 60 percent reside in Casablanca. The museum displays photos of synagogues, old sacred sites, reconstructions of synagogues’ interiors, parchments, traditional costumes and sacred objects as well as silver jewellery. Jewish Moroccans are in fact expert silversmiths, and still today, in the city’s mellah (the Jewish quarter) one can find stalls selling silver jewellery.
Palais Royal Casablanca The King of Morocco has palaces in every city in the country and the Palais Royal Casablanca is the king’s place of residence when staying in the city. It’s a fairly modest building by royal standards and is not open for interior inspection however, it provides some good photo opps …
Villa des Arts Museum This elegant and dazzlingly white villa, surrounded by a garden, houses the city’s leading private art collection – a collection of some 800 art works. You will not only discover the great names in contemporary Moroccan art – from the forerunners (Ahmed Cherkaoui, Jilali Gharbaou) to their successors (Mohammed Serghini, Mohammed Chebaa) – but also artists from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Art workshops, screenings of video art and forums make the Villa a key cultural attraction.
For shopping, the Old Medina is a good place to start. Here you’ll find all manner of locally made goods including clothing and textile products, jewellery, ceramics and handmade carvings and other artistic items. Cross to the New Medina and you’ll find a less tourist-oriented area but still a good selection of shopping outlets and market stalls. One thing to bear in mind when shopping in Casablanca, or almost anywhere else in Morocco, is that you should always play the bargaining game; vendors will invariably give you a very high price, after which you can offer half then you can agree to ‘settle’ somewhere in between. It’s a cultural idiosyncrasy and one that can be fun if you play along.
Casablanca after Dark
Casablanca may well be remembered as having endless nights … With its ultra modern buildings and art deco town centre that recall its creation in the twenties, Casablanca has many assets to seduce you. Especially if you give into the charms of the animated nights. This most western Moroccan city is justifiably known for its nightlife.
The vitality is expressed during the day in its wide, busy avenues. But at night, the city becomes energized along the coastal road. This wide boulevard, which seems to go on forever, shines at night. You will have no trouble finding a bar, café or restaurant. All establishments welcome foreign and mainly western patrons. If you prefer a more local atmosphere, you can watch a baladi dance show in one of the town’s many oriental cabarets. You can also take a taxi to the district of Aïn Diab. At the end of the coastal road, it is home to all the “in” places …
Sports / Outdoor Adventure
Outdoor adventure or sports activities are rather limited in and around Casablanca, but if you are a golf enthusiast who enjoys playing courses in other countries, there is a course in Casa. The Anfa Royal Golf Club is located close to the city. This nine-hole course is a par 35 and is set amid some wonderful natural scenery. You can even see the Hassan II mosque in the distance.
Local Customs and Etiquette
Moroccans are inordinately friendly and hospitable, so try saying salamu ‘aleykum (Hello) and insh’allah.
Moroccans love to talk. For the men, particularly, conversation forms a major part of life and hours are spent ‘arguing’ about current issues over a coffee in the towns’ cafés.
Morocco is a diverse and multi-ethnic society with a diverse cultural history. During your travels you should be aware of a few customs and etiquette.
Classical Arabic is one of the main languages spoken in Morocco, although a dialect of Moroccan Arabic is more widely spoken. Many Moroccans speak French. You may find that English, Spanish and French are all spoken and understood.
Morocco is a Muslim country, so you should be mindful of public behaviour and the way you choose to dress. It is better to dress modestly. Both men and women should aim to cover their shoulders and women’s dresses or skirts should fall at least below the knee. Beachwear is acceptable at resorts. If entering a mosque, shoes should be removed and women should cover their heads with a scarf.
Moroccans are very hospitable and friendly people. When introductions are made, it is customary to ask about your counterpart’s family or friends. The most common way to greet a person is to shake hands – but it is not proper etiquette to firmly grip and enthusiastically shake another person’s hand.
Men and women greet in a slightly different way. The woman should always offer her hand first to initiate a handshake. Women who wear a full veil will often refrain from any physical contact, so in these instances it is customary for the man to simply give a slight bow and allow the woman to retain some personal space.
If you have become well acquainted with your Moroccan counterparts, the proper greeting etiquette is to shake hands and kiss both cheeks, kissing the left cheek first – but only with a person of the same gender.
You may find that during your stay in Morocco, you will be invited into the family home for a meal. It is always customary for a Moroccan to offer food whenever you visit, and it would be seen as quite rude to refuse. Likewise, if you are offered a present when invited into the home, you should always graciously accept. You do not have to open your gift in front of your host – equally you shouldn’t expect your host to open your present either. Gifts should be relatively small – sweets, pastries or flowers are all popular gifts. Bringing a small gift for any children in the home would also be well received.
In conservative households, men and women will dine separately, so if planning on bringing a spouse or partner, you should always find out beforehand if this is the case. In Morocco, it is proper etiquette to dress conservatively, removing your shoes and cleaning your hands before each meal. Because eating is often done with your right hand (although bread can be taken with the left), a small basin will usually be provided before the meal.