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Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء, Dar al-Bayda) may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco, and its largest city, but it is one of the less endearing of the country's sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may be tempted to find the first train out to nearby

Rabat

. The awe-inspiring

Hassan II Mosque

and happening nightlife and architecture (mostly colonial times buildings), however, are worth at least a day of your Moroccan itinerary.

Understand

The modern city of Casablanca was founded by Berber fishermen... Read more

Casablanca, Morocco

Destination:
Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء, Dar al-Bayda) may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco, and its largest city, but it is one of the less endearing of the country's sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may be tempted to find the first train out to nearby

Rabat

. The awe-inspiring

Hassan II Mosque

and happening nightlife and architecture (mostly colonial times buildings), however, are worth at least a day of your Moroccan itinerary.

Understand

The modern city of Casablanca was founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th Century BC and was subsequently used by the Phoenicians, Romans, and the Merenids as a strategic port called Anfa. The Portuguese destroyed it and rebuilt it under the name Casa Branca, only to abandon it after an earthquake in 1755. The Moroccan sultan rebuilt the city as Daru l-Badya and it was given its current name of Casablanca by Spanish traders who established trading bases there. The French occupied the city in 1907, establishing it as a protectorate in 1912 and starting construction of the ville nouvelle, however it gained independence with the rest of the country in 1956.

Casablanca is now Morocco's largest city with a population of almost 4 million and also boasts the world's largest artificial port but no ferry service of any kind. Casablanca is also the most liberal and progressive of Morocco's cities. Young men flirt brazenly with scantily-clad women, designer labels are the norm in the chic, beachfront neighbourhood of 'Ain Diab and many young Moroccans speak to each other exclusively in French.

But not everyone is living the Casablancan dream. Tens of thousands of rural Moroccans who fled the drought-ravaged interior to find work in the city are struggling under high unemployment rates and expensive housing. The poverty, prevalent in slums on the city's outskirts, has led to high rates of crime, drug use, prostitution and the rise of Islamism.

Casablanca is a mixed bag of Moroccan extremes.


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Get around Casablanca, Morocco


A government department puts out an exhaustive map of Casablanca in book form called Carte Guide de Casablanca that you can find in bookstores or online; in all likelihood, though, it isn't necessary. Other than that, Casablanca is like any other European city: the streets (mostly) have signs, and passersby are extremely helpful in French or Arabic and, more rarely, Spanish or English. The Medina can be hard to navigate, but it's so small that no matter how blindly you wander into it, you're never more than ten minutes from an exit.

By tram

Casablanca is one of the two Moroccan cities with a tram. The first line opened in late 2012. Service runs from 5:30 through 22:30 with frequent trains (during the day, the interval seems to be shorter than 10 minutes). Beware that most vending machines only take coins. One journey is MAD 6 with a rechargeable card, MAD 7 otherwise. Please note that a fee of MAD 1 will be added for the card when you buy a ticket. Tram stops are announced in Arabic and French. Further information including the network ("réseau") and schedule ("horaires") is available in French and Arabic on the Casa Tramway website.

By bus

Many bus companies run through the city, the bus routes are the same for a given number, although the route remains completely unclear (Google maps has some bus stops for Casa though). Going by bus is the cheapest way to get around, but some companies such as Hana Bus have vehicles in a disastrous state. It could be worth taking the chance given the cost-saving and experience of what many locals experience, but watch out for pickpockets.

By taxi

All taxis red in color, drivers know how to get to every single place in every single guide book, even if you tell them just "the restaurant on Blvd. Hassan II." You should avoid the white Mercedes Grand Taxis when traveling around, they are much more expensive and less safe. Be sure to check the meter is running to avoid being overcharged at the end of the trip. Don't be surprised if the taxi stops to pick someone else up. The minimum fare is 7 MAD.

What to see in Casablanca, Morocco


  • King Hassan II Mosque

    , Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah. The largest mosque in Morocco and the seventh largest in the world, with the tallest minaret in the world. It opened in 1993, after 7 years construction. It is one of the two main mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Beautiful interior complete with water features, a roof that opens to the sky, a huge hammam in the basement (not in use), and beautiful tile work. Tours Sa-Th 9AM, 10AM, 11AM and 2PM
  • Old Medina (north of the Place des Nations Unies. There is a small traditional walled town in the north of Casablanca). If you are in town it's be worth a visit, but it is nothing compared to the glories of Fes or Marrakesh.
  • The Corniche. A neighborhood on the ocean, west of the Hassan II Mosque. Decades ago it was a thriving resort area - hotels line the ocean side of the Boulevard de la Corniche, and nightclubs line the other side. Most look like they've seen better days. Along the Boulevard de l'Ocean Atlantique are many newer, fancier hotels. The Corniche is also home to many western fast food chains. A new western-style movie theater can also be found here, but the best option is to walk up and down the street, resting at one of the many ocean-view cafes.
  • Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman. Built on a rock off shore, well past The Corniche, and only accessible at low tide. The shrine itself is off-limits to non-Muslims, but visitors are permitted to explore the tiny, medina-like neighborhood that has sprung up around it. A better bet is to walk to it along the beach and catch a view of the beautiful white walls before taking a cab to less remote areas.
  • Mahkama du Pacha. M-Sa 8:00-12:00 & 14:00-18:00. This is a Hispanic-Moorish building comprised of more than 60 ornate rooms with delicately carved wooden ceilings. There are many stuccoes and intricate wrought-iron railings as well as beautifully tiled floors. While entrance may be free it is not easy to get in. You need to find a guide to accompany you. Ask around - especially if you speak some French - it is worth it. To get there take bus 81 on Boulevard de Paris.
  • Central Post Office. Come here to send your postcards in style! Built in 1918, the façade is composed of both round and rectangular shapes. Once you approach you will get a good view of the excellent mosaics.
  • Rêve de mon œil. This art gallery exhibits a bizarre collection of modern welded sculptures by artists from all over Morocco.
  • Octagon Square. This is one of the best places to see modern Morocco. Businessmen come out in droves at lunchtime to have their food in the sunshine on this modern city square. Great chances to take beautiful scenery shots too.
  • Villa des Arts, 30, Boulevard Brahim Roudani, Casablanca (located slightly southwest of Parc de la Ligue Arabe on Bvd Brahim Roudani), ☎ +212-(0)522 29 50 87FORMAT, fax: +212-(0)522 27 86 07FORMAT. Tue-Sun 9:30-19:00 (except public holidays). Run by the charity ONA, it is a place for the Moroccan art scene. currently free of charge.

Art galleries (commercial - they live of earnings they make by selling art, you can usually enter for free):

  • Galérie d'art l'Atelier 21, 21, rue Abou Mahassine Arrouyani (ex rue Boissy-d'anglas), Casablanca 20100 Maroc, ☎ +212-(0)522.98.17.85FORMAT, fax: +212-(0)522.98.17.86FORMAT, e-mail: latelier21@gmail.com.
  • Galerie shart, 12, rue El Jihani, Casablanca, ☎ +212 (0)5 22 39 49 80FORMAT, e-mail: info@galerie-shart.ma.
  • Loft Art Gallery, 13, rue El Kaïssi, Casablanca, ☎ +212 (0)5 22 94 47 65FORMAT. Mon-Fri 9:30-12:30, 14:30-19:30, Sat 09:30-12:30.
  • Galérie Nadar, 5, Rue Al Manaziz,, Casablanca, ☎ +212 (0)5 22 23 69 00FORMAT, e-mail: galerienadar@gmail.com.

What to do in Casablanca, Morocco


Hammam (Turkish Baths)

  • Solidarite Feminine, 4, rue Ahmed Chowki, Palmier, ☎ +212 22-99-23-94.

What to eat and drink in Casablanca, Morocco


Eat

Restaurants in Morocco are like restaurants in Spain - they don't open until around 7PM at the earliest, and most people don't eat until much later. Be sure to call first and make sure your restaurant of choice is actually open.

Drink

Nightlife in Casablanca has mixed reviews. Women might feel a bit uncomfortable with the mostly male crowds in many bars and nightclubs. But if you dig a bit, you'll find some excellent spots to drink, dance and people watch. Certain clubs are flooded with prostitutes at night. It is not advised to bring a girl back to a hotel.
If you want a drink in your hotel room, supermarkets like Acima and Marjane carry a wide variety of liquor and wine, though the beer selection is fairly stunted. The best places to drink are either European-style restaurants, which usually have a decent selection, or hotel bars, which are inevitably safer and more relaxed. Many western-style nightclubs exist in the Maarif and Gironde neighborhoods. Pubs will cost around 100 dirhams per head, it will be half if visited in the happy hours from 7PM-11PM. Pubs to visit Tiger House, La Notte.

  • Kasbar, 7 Rue Najib Mahfoud, Gauthier (On a street between Blvd Anfa and Blvd Souktani.), ☎ +212 22 20 47 47. A dark and atmospheric place to grab a drink or dinner. Any kind of attire will fly, but if you want to dress up, a night at Kasbar is your chance.
  • La Bodega, Rue Mohammed 5 (Near the old downtown and Medina). A Spanish tapas bar, quite original. There can be a wait to get into the basement bar; but once you get inside, you're rewarded with bartenders who eat fire. It's pretty expensive, though, and only frequented by tourists.

Shopping in Casablanca, Morocco


  • Casablanca is one of the least interesting places to shop in all of Morocco. Around the old Medina it's easy to find places selling traditional Moroccan goods, such as tagines, pottery, leather goods, hookahs, and a whole spectrum of geegaws, but it's all for the tourists. Much better to wait until you're in Fes and can bargain with someone who sells things to Moroccans and tourists alike.
  • That said, the Maarif neighborhood (near the twin center, around Boulevard al Massira al Khadra) has many name-brand European and American fashion chains, such as Zara. Designer glasses, leather shoes, and "genuine" belts, bags, and shirts can be had at bargain prices.
  • Morocco Mall (lat=33.5759). is a huge mall inclduing a variety of shops and a cinema (supposedly it's north Africa's second largest shopping centre). It is located at the very southwest of the city (further down from Ain Diab/Anfa).
  • The Derb Ghalef neighborhood has a huge souq that is not for the faint of heart. A cluster of small shanties, each one is loaded with "genuine" mobile phones, "genuine" watches, and "genuine" "brand name" clothing. The shops are separated by alleys no more than three feet wide, some of which double as drainage ditches. There are numerous fruit smoothie stands in the center, which make a good spot for regrouping and planning your excursion. The stall owners are, of course, kings of negotiating, and without a good handle on Arabic and a strong backbone, you're likely to pay well over the going rate for anything.
  • People interested in art find a decent amount of art galleries (the renowned galleries can be found in the "See" section).

Safety in Casablanca, Morocco


Almost all of the things to see in Casablanca are in the north of the city; very few maps even show the southern end of this sprawling metropolis. Common sense will alleviate 99% of problems; try to look as little like a tourist as possible, do not flash large quantities of cash, and so on. Faux Guides are much less of a problem here than in the rest of Morocco and are limited mainly to the area around the Old Medina. It is inadvisable to walk alone in Casablanca at night. Women, as in all Moroccan cities, should dress modestly to avoid harassment (which almost always consists of lewd comments, but nothing physical.)

Language spoken in Casablanca, Morocco


The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berber. However, the local Moroccan Arabic, a dialect of Maghrebi Arabic (spoken in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) is very divergent from standard Arabic, so even native Arabic speakers from outside the region would not understand the conversations of locals. However, all Moroccans learn standard Arabic in school, so speakers of standard Arabic should not have any problems communicating in the major cities. Officially about half the population cannot read or write so there are always translators around and people to assist filling in forms (for a small fee) around most places where such forms are required such as ports, etc.

Various dialects of Berber are spoken by Morocco's ethnic Berbers.

French is widely understood in Morocco due to its history as a French protectorate, and is still taught in schools from relatively early grades, making it by far the most useful non-Arabic language to know. Most urban locals you meet will be trilingual in Moroccan Arabic, standard Arabic and French, but only speak French to foreigners and never among each other. In the north and southern part of the country, many people also speak Spanish instead or alongside French.

While knowledge of the English language is increasing amongst the younger generations, most Moroccans don't speak a word, and even those that do will most likely speak better French. Although you will find a few people who speak English among the most educated people, in urban areas most of them are touts and faux guides. Some shop owners and hotel managers in urban centers also speak English.

People are used to dealing with the communication barrier that comes with having various Berber dialects - pantomiming, smiling and using even the most broken French will get you a long way.

LOCAL TIME

5:52 am
June 18, 2019
Africa/Casablanca

CURRENT WEATHER

20.62 °C / 69.116 °F
sky is clear
Tue

20.43 °C/69 °F
sky is clear
Wed

20.71 °C/69 °F
sky is clear
Thu

20.15 °C/68 °F
sky is clear
Fri

19.47 °C/67 °F
sky is clear

LOCAL CURRENCY

MAD

1 USD = 0 MAD
1 EUR = 0 MAD
1 GBP = 0 MAD
1 AUD = 0 MAD
1 CAD = 0 MAD

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