Casablanca is Morocco's most modern city, and various groups of people call it home: hardworking Berbers who came north from the Souss Valley to make their fortune; older folks raised on French customs during the protectorate; pious Muslims; wealthy business executives in the prestigious neighborhoods called California and Anfa; new and poor arrivals from the countryside, living in shantytowns; and thousands of others from all over the kingdom who have found jobs here. The city has its own stock exchange, and working hours tend to transcend the relaxed pace kept by the rest of Morocco. True to its Spanish name—casa blanca, "white house," which, in turn, is Dar el-Beida in Arabic—Casablanca is a conglomeration of white buildings. The present city, known colloquially as Casa or El Beida, was only founded in 1912. It lacks the ancient monuments that resonate in Morocco's other major cities; however, there are still some landmarks, including the famous Hassan II Mosque.
Most Casablanca nightlife for the young and wired develops out along the Boulevard de la Corniche. Exceptions are the major hotel discos such as the Black House in the Hyatt Regency.
Every year, Casablanca becomes more and more a cosmopolitan city, with a significant selection of European stores. Morocco Mall, one of the 20 largest malls worldwide, opened in December 2011 at the Southern edge of the Corniche. In addition to over 300 stores, the mall will have a skating rink, bowling alley, fun park, aquarium, IMAX theater, and spa.§
Casablanca also prides itself on the availability of fashionable Western clothing. The greatest concentration of clothing boutiques by far is found in the Maarif area, on both sides of Boulevard Massira Al Khadra, near Boulevard Zerktouni. Here you'll find the Twin Center shopping mall, European stores like Zara, Mango, and Massimo Dutti, and all manner of specialty stores from Belgian chocolatiers to fashionable shoe stores to Portuguese porcelain warehouses.
Place Mohammed V
This is Casablanca's version of London's Trafalgar Square: it has an illuminated fountain, lots of pigeons, and a series of impressive buildings facing it. Coming from the port, you'll pass the main post office on your right, and on your left as you enter the square is its most impressive building, the courthouse, built in the 1920s. On the other side of Avenue Hassan II from the post office is the ornate Bank Al Maghrib; the structure opposite, with the clock tower, is the Wilaya, the governor's office. The more modest buildings on the right side of the square house the notorious customs directorate (where importers' appeals against punitive taxes stand little chance). To avoid confusion, note that Place Mohammed V was formerly called Place des Nations Unies and vice versa, and the old names still appear on some maps.
This handicrafts center is much like the Ensemble Artisanal in Rabat. Here you can buy pottery, crafted wood, straw work, carpets, slippers, leatherwork, and handcrafted musical instruments in specialty shops, some of whose artisans create their wares in full view. However, most people who visit Casablanca would prefer to go to the Quartier des Habous to buy crafts.
Hassan II Mosque
Casablanca's skyline is dominated by this massive edifice. No matter where you are, you're bound to see it thanks to its attention-grabbing green-tile roof. The building's foundations lie partly on land and partly in the sea, and at one point you can see the water through a glass floor. The main hall holds an astonishing 25,000 people and has a retractable roof so that it can be turned into a courtyard. The minaret is more than 650 feet high, and the mezzanine floor (which holds the women's section, about 6 feet above the main floor) seems dwarfed by the nearly 200-foot-high ceiling. Still, the ceiling's enormous painted decorations appear small and delicate from below.Funded through public subscription, designed by a French architect, and built by a team of 35,000, the mosque went up between 1987 and 1993 and is now the third-largest mosque in the world, after the Haramain Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. It was set in Casablanca primarily so that the largest city in the kingdom would have a monument worthy of its size. Except for Tin Maland, this is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. If you fly out of Casablanca, try to get a window seat on the left for a good view of the mosque in relation to the city as a whole.
Get a feel for Casa's Atlantic setting by stopping at a
Corniche café and basking in the sun and breeze. This is where the people of
Casablanca go to relax—a seafront line of cafés, restaurants, beach resorts,
nightclubs, and hotels.
At the edge of the new medina, the Quartier des Habous is a curiously attractive mixture of French colonial architecture with Moroccan details built by the French at the beginning of the 20th century. Capped by arches, its shops surround a pretty square with trees and flowers. As you enter the Habous, you'll pass a building resembling a castle; this is the Pasha's Mahkama, or court, completed in 1952. The Mahkama formerly housed the reception halls of the Pasha of Casablanca, as well as a Muslim courthouse; it's currently used for district government administration. On the opposite side of the square is the Mohammed V Mosque—although not ancient, this and the 1938 Moulay Youssef Mosque, in the adjacent square, are among the finest examples of traditional Maghrebi (western North African) architecture in Casablanca. Look up at the minarets and you might recognize a style used in Marrakesh's Koutoubia Mosque and Seville's Giralda. Note also the fine wood carving over the door of the Mohammed V. The Habous is well known as a center for Arabic books; most of the other shops here are devoted to rich displays of traditional handicrafts aimed at locals and tourists. This is the best place in Casabalanca to buy Moroccan handicrafts. You can also buy traditional Moroccan clothes such as kaftans and djellabas (long, hooded outer garments). Immediately north of the Habous is Casablanca's Royal Palace. You can't go inside, but the outer walls are pleasing; their sandstone blocks fit neatly together and blend well with the little streets at the edge of the Habous.
Arab League Park
This is the most substantial patch of green in the center of Casablanca. There is a small children's amusement park, which has seen better days, on the far side of Boulevard Moulay Youssef and, to the right of the amusement park an avenue of tall palm trees. Casablanca's modern cathedral, built in 1930, is at the park's northwest corner.
The simple whitewashed houses of the medina, particularly those closest to the harbor, form an extraordinary contrast to Morocco's economic and commercial nerve center just a few hundred yards away. European consuls lived here in the 19th century, the early trading days, and there are still a youth hostel and a few very cheap hotels within. The medina has its own personality and charm due in part to the fact that Moroccans living in more affluent areas may never even enter it. Near Place des Nations Unies a large conglomeration of shops sells watches, leather bags and jackets, shoes, crafted wood, and clothes.