Famous Cities in Morocco Series (Episode 1 of 13): Casablanca
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
Have you ever wanted to travel to Morocco but were not sure where to go? Read on to find out more about Morocco’s intrigue, its fantastic history, and many of its amazing cities. The country of Morocco has so many interesting towns and cities as well as beautiful landmarks. From the astonishing city of Casablanca to Marrakech, Fes, Rabat, and more, Morocco has everything one might hope to experience. These places boast historical monuments, such as the Hassan II Mosque, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and so many others. In this article series, thirteen cities and 2 to 3 of their landmarks in Morocco will be featured that are historically and culturally significant.
Historical Synopsis — Casablanca:
The city of Casablanca has unknown origins because it has changed hands of control many times throughout history. It is thought Casablanca dates to an Amazigh/Berber tribe in the twelfth century under the name of Anfa. Later on, in the fifteenth century, Casablanca (formerly, Anfa) became a base for pirates looking to trap Christian ships. But, the Portuguese destroyed it in the mid-1400s. The most likely reason why Casablanca was used by pirates is the city’s central location on the Atlantic coast. For geographical reference, Morocco sits directly south of Spain. In fact, it is only a 30-minute boat ride from Spain to Morocco. Hence, pirates saw great value in using Casablanca as its main base of operations.
After a devastating earthquake in 1755, the city had to be rebuilt. This did not happen until the late eighteenth century. Eventually, Spanish and French merchants settled into the area. This is when the city became known under its current name of Casablanca (meaning ‘white house’ in Spanish). In the twentieth century, Morocco became a French protectorate, and during World War II, Casablanca became famous for hosting the Casablanca Conference. This was a summit between British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to hammer out the global military strategy for the Allies. Finally, in the 1950s, Morocco achieved its independence and has remained so ever since.
Casablanca Landmarks — Hassan II Mosque & the Quartier Habous:
Hassan II Mosque:
The Hassan II Mosque is located in Casablanca. It sits right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Since the mosaic tiles are aqua in color, the mosque looks as if it is part of the water. It is considered to be one of the largest mosques in Africa. It has a 210-meter-tall minaret (about 689 feet). The mosque was partially funded by King Hassan II (thus, the name of it), and it took six years to be completed by 1993. The Hassan II Mosque has carefully cut out mosaic shapes made from “fragrant cedar wood from the Middle Atlas [mountains] and pink granite from Agadir,” [another city in Morocco]. It is one of only two mosques that are open to the public. Tours are given in multiple languages as well. The inspiration for the Hassan II Mosque being built on the Atlantic coast is from the “Quran, which states that God’s throne was built upon the water,”. It is truly a sight to behold. Wonderfully skilled craftsmanship went into building this magnificent structure.
The Quartier Habous is another beautiful place to visit in Casablanca. In Morocco, there are the concepts of ‘old’ and ‘new’ medinas (cities). Usually, the old medina is akin to a historical district. But in the case of the Quartier Habous, this is the new medina which is quite picturesque. The area is marked by fancy archways, interesting markets, houses, and of course the greatest Moroccan bakery, the Bennis Habous. This bakery makes traditional treats such as gazelle horn cookies, almond briouat pastries, and delicious coffees.
The Quartier Habous was built by the French in the 1930s when Morocco was a protectorate. Its purpose was to provide an experience that might be familiar to Westerners. The most interesting thing about the Quartier Habous is that it manages to blend the French and Moroccan cultures together. Thus, to this day, tourists can enjoy a blended masterpiece of simplistic beauty. Finally, the Royal Palace which, unfortunately, is not open to the public is just a mile and a half away from the Quartier Habous.
In conclusion, the city of Casablanca is a beautiful place to visit especially since it is quite historical and artistic. The city is also famous due to the 1942 Academy Award-winning film, Casablanca. While the movie was not filmed on location due to WWII, Casablanca (the city) is amazing. The city has much intrigue given its location near the Atlantic Ocean. Also, for most visitors, it is the first point of contact after leaving the Mohammed V Airport. Finally, Casablanca has a rich culture that goes back centuries. You will have much to choose from when you visit. For now, this was only a small taste. This is the first part of the journey through Morocco where readers can enjoy learning more about the city’s history and two of its finest landmarks which are the Hassan II Mosque and Quartier Habous!
This is the first installment in a series focusing on cities in Morocco with an emphasis on history and famous landmarks. Each article will feature a historical synopsis about the city and 2 to 3 significant landmarks. Keep an eye out for the next article about Marrakech, the ‘Red City’ of Morocco coming soon. Thank you for reading!
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