Day 5: Casablanca, Morocco

by - September 12, 2012

View over Casablanca from the hotel
Having seen all we had to see in Meknes, we headed to the train station and caught the midday train to Casablanca. Nearly everybody I had spoken to had said that Casablanca, as famous as it is, is not really worth a visit. As Morocco’s main port, commercial hub and largest city I had heard that it is busy, grimy and only really useful as a transport hub. I was however undeterred and willing to give the city a chance - mainly due to its fame, but also because it acted as an excellent interchange between our travels in the north and our travels in the south. We had therefore decided to spend one night in Casablanca.

The train journey from Meknes took just over 3 hours and was extremely comfortable in 1st class (the tickets cost £10 each). Arriving in the late afternoon we got a petit taxi to our hotel, the Kenzi Tower, which is located in the city’s tallest skyscraper. The hotel was a lot more posh than we had been expecting and it is probably the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed in. After having lunch in the hotel restaurant we went out for a stroll.

Casablanca (abandoned) Cathedral
While there is a medina in Casa, it is not particularly old and is more of a poor district of the city than exotic bazaar. We therefore spent the afternoon walking around the colonial district which is full of remarkably well looked after French-era buildings in an architectural style unique to Morocco - a combination of French art-deco and traditional Moroccan. Casablanca was the centre of the French administration in the centre of what they rather bluntly called ‘useful Morocco’. Before they arrived, Casablanca was a small port but the French brought large boulevards and government buildings. The city found fame during World War 2 as it defiantly offered to shelter Allied troops, even when the French Vichy government prevented the rest of the country from doing so - this situation forms the background to the famous Casablanca film. We spent about an hour looking around the colonial district, stopping to look inside the old cathedral which now lays empty. Considering what I had been told about Casa, I was actually pretty impressed.

Colonial Architecture
Hassan II Mosque
We then got a petit taxi out to the coast, where one of the most dramatic (and under-looked) sights in all of Morocco can be found. The Hassan II Mosque, started in 1980 and completed in 1993 is the third largest mosque in the world and the tallest building in Morocco. Non-Muslims are allowed in on guided tours (of which there were none left today), but we were happy enough to stand outside and get photos of its dramatic position on the cliffs. Costing $500 million, it is a fairly controversial project, but is definitely worth a visit as a tourist. Our taxi took us back to our hotel where we freshened up for our evening’s entertainment, which was our main reason for visiting. While the film Casablanca was entirely shot in Hollywood, an American has recreated the famous “Rick’s Cafe” in the city itself. We half expected it to be a cheesy imitation, but it turned out to be superb - a classy restaurant with a live band and great food. It looked exactly like the cafe in the film and it wasn’t hard to imagine yourself being in the cast. The film played on a continuous loop upstairs and inevitably the pianist played “As Time Goes By” at about 10pm (it was obvious that we were all waiting for it). We really enjoyed the experience and in many ways it was worth coming to the city just to visit the restaurant. After dinner we went back to the bar on the 28th floor of our hotel and had a drink with great views over the city - the Hassan II Mosque standing proudly on the horizon. While we might have struggled to have kept entertained for much longer in Casablanca, our 24 hours here had been well worth it.
Inside Rick’s Cafe

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