Let’s be honest. When most Americans think of Casablanca, this is the image that comes to mind. Romantic lead Humphrey Bogart and the luminous Ingrid Bergman starred in what has been called the greatest movie of all time. We learned a lot about spies. We learned a lot about World War II. But as not one frame was filmed in Casablanca, we didn’t learn much about this iconic city. But there’s so much history and beauty to explore in Casablanca, it’s worth getting to know this magical city.
A port city, it has always been a valuable asset to a series of conquerors. Throughout its history, Casablanca has been ruled by Berber, Roman, Arab, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British and Moroccan regimes. Today, the city is busily developing a tourism industry, and as you will see as you read on, there’s so much to see!
Hassan II Mosque
On the shoreline, just beyond the northern tip of Casablanca’s medina (old city), the Hassan II mosque dominates the entire city. Finished in 1993, it is the second largest mosque in the world, covering two hectares in size with the world’s tallest minaret (200 meters high). The prayer hall can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, while the courtyard (which boasts a retractable roof) can fit another 80,000.
Astonishingly intricate decoration covers every centimeter of surface. The location, right on the tip of the rocky bay above the ocean, is thoroughly dramatic. Non-Muslims can visit the mosque on guided tours, which begin at the mosque’s western entrance several times per day.
The best place in Casablanca to experience the traditional local way of life is to visit the old city district, known as the Medina. Medinas are found in many North African cities and are typically walled, containing narrow, winding streets where cars are prohibited. The Medina in Casablanca is best entered by the Marrakech gate, known for its imposing clock tower.
Within the Medina, authentic tradesmen sell their wares to shoppers. It’s a rambling and ramshackle neighborhood with an authentic residential feel, and a great place to experience the pulse of Casablanca life. There are also some interesting holy men koubbas (shrines) in the medina’s southern section. After a little twisting and turning, you can find your way to the old Portuguese fortress known as La Sqala that backs onto the old city.
Known for its string of glamorous Atlantic beach clubs, La Corniche, part of the Ain Diab neighborhood, is popular with a fashionable crowd of sunbathers and surfers. It includes a beautiful promenade, a jogging trail stretching all the way from the lighthouse up to the end of the jetty, as well as some stunning panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. After dark, the action moves to the area’s trendy nightclubs, cocktail lounges, and sea-facing bar terraces. Dining options along Boulevard de la Corniche range from simple counter-serve joints to fancy French restaurants. On sunny weekends, this is a great spot for people watching, with plenty of local families heading to the sand for picnicking and promenading.
After experiencing all that is exotic in Casablanca, you can end your stay with walking in Bogart’s footsteps at Rick’s Cafe. Opened in 2004, the restaurant is housed in a traditional Moroccan grand mansion with a central courtyard built in 1930. The restaurant features a distinctive streetfront entrance with heavy wooden doors that depict that of the film. It houses an authentic 1930s Pleyel piano and As Time Goes By is a common request to the in-house pianist. Reservations are recommended. We can’t think of a better way to cap off an exciting stay in this ancient yet modern city.