Casablanca, Morocco - Stein Travel

Casablanca

Destinations




    • 16+ years

    • 12-15 years

    • 2-11 years

    • 0-23 months


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Welcome to Casablanca

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 Casablanca, 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. Women ditch the conservative clothing and dress themselves in the latest designer gear, while men flirt shamelessly with them. And while 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.


Climate

Boasting a Mediterranean climate, cool Atlantic currents keep Casablanca's climate mild and temperate with little variation in temperature between seasons. Summers are warm and dry while winters are mild and rainy. Travellers to Casablanca, no matter what season, are advised to pack lightweight clothing for the sun is shining, and at least one solid windbreaker to repel cold sea breezes.

Getting Around

There is a reliable bus route that runs daily throughout the city as well as various private lines which run from Gare Routière on Rue Léon l'Africain in downtown Casablanca. 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 blue colour. These are known as petite taxis(small taxis) while the white variety are known as grands taxis(big taxis). Grand taxis can also be hired by the hour or day and many travellers may choose to do this. Rental car agencies can be found throughout the city, but they are expensive and those opting to drive themselves should be cautious of chaotic driving and high accident rates. Walking around the city is safe enough but petty thieves, such as pick-pockets taker advantage of unsuspecting tourists.

Language
Arabic is the official language, but eight other languages are also spoken including Berber, French and Spanish. English is generally understood in the tourist areas, but French is the most widely spoken.
Money

The unit of currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD), which is divided into 100 centimes. ATMs are available in the larger towns, but can be unreliable; currency can be exchanged at banks or official bureaux de changes, which are also widespread in major towns. Dirhams cannot be obtained or exchanged outside Morocco and receipts must be retained as proof of legal currency exchange, as well as in order to re-exchange money when departing. Major credit cards are accepted in the larger shops, hotels and restaurants. Travellers cheques can be used in tourist areas, but are not prevalent; they are best taken in Euros or Pounds Stirling.

Shopping

Not quite as bustling as some other Moroccan cities, Casablanca still has a lot to offer eager shoppers. Those keen on shopping in Casablanca should best brush up on their haggling skills, as spirited negotiation over price is the norm in this white-walled Moroccan city.

Head to the old Medina for traditional wares such as tagines, leather goods, hookahs and other Moroccan souvenirs. Major fashion chain stores can be found in the Maarif neighbourhood, where all the big names from Zara to Prada can be found as well as 'designer' accessories, which can be scooped up for a song. The run-down Derb Ghraleef neighbourhood, where a cluster of small stalls offer everything from cellphones to 'genuine' brand name clothing and everything in between, is an adventurous destination for serious shoppers with a basic understanding of Arabic and solid bargaining skills.

The famous Marché Central (Central Market) is a great place to pick up fresh seafood such as oysters, or Moroccan-style sausages and patés. Other handcrafts and souvenirs can be bought here too. The only department store in Casablanca is Alpha 55 on Avenue Mers-Sultan, and stocks just about everything under the sun. Look out for authentic Moorish silver jewellery: a sensational idea for gifts for loved ones back home.

Most shops open at 9am, close around lunchtime and reopen around 3pm, and are usually closed all day on Sundays. Lunch hours on Fridays are often prolonged due to Friday prayers. During Ramadan, shops open later in the day and remain open at mid-day.

Designed by 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 terraces, bars and restaurants occupy the top floor. This building is a popular attraction because it represents the modernisation of Casablanca.

Not quite as majestic as the medina's of Fez or Marrakech, this ancient walled part of Casablanca is worth a visit. This part of town predates the French protectorate and has undergone restoration where the skala(bastion) and colonial clock tower have been restored to their former glory.

The third largest of its kind in the world, the King Hassan II Mosque was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau. Perched on the edge of the city of Casablanca, this picturesque structure looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and features the world's tallest minaret, towering at 689 feet (210m). Almost half of this mosque lies on the Atlantic, which 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.

Located past the ocean-side neighbourhood of the Corniche, the Shrine of Sidi Abderrahman is built on a rock and is only accessible at low tide. Non-Muslims are not allowed to visit the shrine, but travellers wishing to explore the tiny neighbourhood around it are permitted to do so. Most visitors opt to catch a glimpse of the shrine and its breathtaking white walls while walking along the beach.


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