Casablanca travel guide
Just looking at the city, there's no need to guess where the port-city of Casablanca, meaning 'white house' in Spanish, got its name. Made famous by the classic 1942 Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name, this cosmopolitan, white-walled city is Morocco's largest and probably its least endearing; although under the hustle and bustle and slight seediness lies a unique and charismatic history waiting to be discovered.
Founded by Berber fisherman in the 10th century BC, Casablanca was used by the Phoenicians, Romans and Merenids as a port. The Portuguese then took over but after destroying the city and rebuilding it, they abandoned it in 1755 after an earthquake. The city went on to be rebuilt as Daru l-Badya(the Arabic name) by a Moroccan sultan, and was given the name Casablanca by the Spanish traders who used the port.
Casablanca is unlike any other Moroccan city. Many women ditch the conservative clothing and dress themselves in the latest designer gear, while men flirt shamelessly with them. This trend toward modernity has worked out for some, it has also had some very negative effects on Casablanca - widespread urban poverty has led to crime, drugs and prostitution, and evidence of this can be seen in the slums on the outskirts of the city.
A trip to Casablanca - untraditional and plain as this city may be - is a must for anyone wanting to experience the 'full picture' of what contemporary Morocco has to offer.
The King Hassan II Mosque
One of the largest mosques in the world, and the largest in Morocco, the King Hassan II Mosque was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau. It is affectionately nicknamed the 'Casablanca Hajj'. Perched on the edge of the city of Casablanca, this picturesque structure looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and features one of the world's tallest minarets, towering at 689 feet (210m). The minaret is 60 storeys high and topped by a laser which points towards Mecca. Almost half of the massive mosque lies over the Atlantic, and the water can be seen through a gigantic glass floor. This feature was inspired by a verse in the Qur'an: 'the throne of God was built on water'. The mosque can accommodate over 100,000 worshippers. The design is a mixture of classic Islamic architecture and Moroccan elements and it was worked on by hundreds of Morocco's best craftsmen, finally being inaugurated in 1993. The massive cost of building such an impressive mosque was a source of contention in the poor country, but it is now viewed with pride by locals and is a popular tourist attraction. Thankfully, the Hassan II mosque is open to non-Muslims, but to explore the magnificent interior you must take guided tour. The tours are conducted in several languages. Visitors will be expected to dress appropriately and will have to remove their shoes. On most days three or four tours are available.
Address: Blvd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah
The Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman
Located past the ocean-side neighbourhood of the Corniche, the
Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman is built on a rock out at sea and is
only accessible at low tide. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter
the shrine, but travellers wishing to explore the tiny
neighbourhood around it are permitted to do so. Most visitors just
opt to admire it from a distance, catching a glimpse of the shrine
and its breathtaking white walls while walking along the beach.
Traditionally, people visit this shrine to heal mental illness and
it is one of Morocco's most famous coastal shrines.
The Corniche was once a thriving resort area and there are still many hotels, nightclubs and restaurants lining the coastal boulevard (Boulevard de la Corniche), but many of these now look somewhat rundown and there is a sense that the place is past its prime. The Boulevard de l'Ocean Atlantique is now the more glamourous street, where newer and more upmarket accommodation can be found. One thing the Corniche neighbourhood does have in abundance is international fast food chains and this in combination with the American-style movie theatre makes it a good place to visit for those needing a comforting taste of home.
Casablanca Twin Centre
Designed by a Spanish architect, the Casablanca Twin Centre features two skyscrapers which are 28-storeys tall and tower above the city at 377 feet (115m). Known as La Grande Casa, the buildings house offices, businesses, a five-storey shopping mall and a luxury five-star hotel. The towers are the tallest buildings in the city and are situated in the Maarif district, at the intersection between Zerktouni Boulevard and Al Massira Al Khadra Boulevard. The two towers, which are unimaginatively named the East Tower and the West Tower, are joined at the lower levels by a large complex which contains the bulk of the shopping centre. Above this joined section the East Tower contains the five-star Kenzi Tower Hotel and the West Tower holds part of the shopping centre and offices. The spa, bar and restaurant facilities in the hotel are open to non-residents and the panoramic restaurant on the 27th floor is particularly popular. The locals are proud of the building because it represents the modernisation of Casablanca, and it is a great attraction for tourists looking to do some shopping, fine dining, or just to get some wonderful views of the city from on high.
Casablanca Mohammed V Airport
Location: The airport is situated 16 miles (25km) south of Casablanca.
Time: GMT (GMT +1 between last Sunday in March and last Saturday in May; between first Saturday in July and last Sunday in October)
Contacts: Tel: +212 (0)2 253 9040.
Transfer between terminals: The terminals are connected by a free shuttle.
Getting to the city: Trains leave the airport for Casa-Voyageurs station roughly every hour between about 7am and midnight; the trip takes approximately 45 minutes. Most hotels will arrange airport transfers, either complimentary or for a fee. Taxis and rental cars are also available.
Car rental: There are numerous car hire companies represented at the airport including Avis, Budget and Hertz.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are freely available outside the airport terminal, operating 24 hours per day. The base rate for a journey to Casablanca is about $30.
Facilities: The airport has shops, restaurants and bars, ATMs and currency exchange services, and a post office. There are tourist information desks, a VIP Lounge, business centre, and disabled facilities, although it is recommended that those with special needs contact their airline in advance.
Parking: Short and long-term parking is available at the airport for a fee.
Casablanca is a large and chaotic city and first-time visitors may find getting around a daunting prospect. Fiat Uno taxis provide metered services in the central metropolitan areas. Registered taxis can be easily hailed from just about anywhere in the city and are easily identified by their red colour. There are also bigger white taxis available. Both kinds are usually shared and the drivers may wait till the vehicle is full before setting off, or stop en route to pick up more passengers. The big white taxis can also be hired by the hour or day and many travellers choose to do this. Keep in mind that a large surcharge goes into effect later into the evening, making taxi fares much higher at night.
Casablanca does have a bus system; however, it is often confusing for visitors as there are many companies operating on different routes, at varying prices, and on unreliable schedules. Rental car agencies can be found throughout the city, but those opting to drive themselves should be cautious due to chaotic driving conditions and high accident rates.
Despite the apparent chaos, many of the main sights and attractions of Casablanca are situated close together and can be explored on foot. When travelling by means of public transport and when walking, travellers should not display wealth and should try not to draw attention to themselves.
Boasting a mild Mediterranean climate, cool Atlantic currents keep Casablanca's climate temperate with little variation in temperature between seasons and only moderate temperature swings; the city seldom experiences extreme heat or extreme cold. Summers (between July and September) are warm and dry, while winters (between November and February) are mild and rainy. The hottest months are July, August and September, when the average temperatures range between 68°F (20°C) and 79°F (26°C); the coldest months are January and February, when the average temperatures range between 47°F (8°C) and 64°F (18°C). Rain is most common between November and April and it is generally dry in summer. Travellers to Casablanca, no matter what season, are advised to pack lightweight clothing for when the sun is shining, and at least one solid windbreaker to repel cold sea breezes.
Essentially Casablanca is a year-round travel destination, but the best time to visit the city is between March and October. July and August are the most popular months to travel there, but spring and autumn are also pleasant seasons and a good option for those wanting to avoid crowds.
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