Close your eyes and think of Casablanca.
To a sentimental romantic, Casablanca is a legendary place that exists in a fantasy enlivened by the 1942 film featuring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. Even though Casablanca was actually made on a soundstage in Hollywood, CA - it's a place that shares similar trends of this magnificent city on Africa's northwest coast.
Thanks to the film, this Moroccan port city will always recall the black and white foggy steamships and stylish fedoras. Casa (pronounced "Caza" by locals) is author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry walking Paris-style boulevards on a stopover before Senegal. It's Edith Piaf, stayed in a lavish hotel room with her lover, the prizefighter Marcel Cerdan. Casa's Josephine Baker, softly humming "J'ai Deux Amours" at the Art Deco Rialto theater. What's more, it's Humphrey Bogart revealing to Ingrid Bergman that "the problems of three little people don't add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that... Here's looking at you, kid".
That glam wore off quite a while ago. With its gloriously faded concrete jungle and dusty colonial roads, this rough-edged city of almost five million feels like a fossil of past in some neighborhoods, which is precisely what makes Casa so tempting to wander around and get lost. It's unconventional air, and despairing grandeur is more reminiscent of Havana than a Hong Kong, are the different exemption to a contracting, touristy universe of online boutique hotels and postcard-style analogy.
Nowadays, the bombastic buildings paved by the French colonialists — significant Art Nouveau buildings, cool Deco town houses, collage-like Neo-Moorish castles — has made the city a monster museum for an architect lover. Under the eye of the world's tallest minaret, men and women still stroll along the palm-lined Medina in hooded djellabas and head-covering hijab.
The genuine Casablanca is regularly ignored by tourists who are inclined to visit the souks of Marrakech and Fez or the fascinating shores of Essaouira and Tangier. It is a city for visitors who jump at the chance to feel like a neighbor or old friend (Thank you always, Sophia), instead of a traveler, who needs to encounter the present as well as seek the mysteries of the past. The immensity of Casablanca, Morocco's most crowded city, implies guests need to try to find its shrouded subtle elements to experience its magic with patience. When you dig under the surface, you'll see that Casablanca's blend of coarseness and style feels a considerable like California living.
Other than friends, here are a few reason's why Casablanca is one of my favorite cities to visit.
Many of Casablanca's famous Art Deco villas have been reawakened into modern galleries, exhibitions, and museums. The city's developing contemporary art scene is an impression of the social interest of its ruler, King Mohammed VI, an energetic art collector. His ascent to the royal position in 1999 introduced a new period for art in the city and country, and in the most recent decade, his passion has roused a blooming gathering of art collectors all over Morocco.
L'Atelier 21 is the best place to discover what's new in Casa's thriving scene has to offer. Dodging into a bustling spot on Rue Abou Mahassine Arrouyani, you'll locate a modern space that not only exhibits developed and well-known artists (like Zakaria Ramhani, whose famous artwork, on close assessment, end up being made out of brushstroke-like Arabic writing), but also new talent from around
Additionally, endeavors to grow a blossoming system of creatives and benefactors is the vision for the near future. "Today we are offering contemporary art. This would have appeared to be impossible when we opened ten years ago," says Nadia Amor, director of gallery L’Atelier 21, “Our art scene used to be dominated by historical and orientalist paintings. The future has fantastic opportunities for Caza's art
Not minutes from L'Atelier 21 is Galerie Shart, art gallery opened by enthusiastic collector turned gallerist Hassan Sefrioui. Sefrioui opened his exhibit in 2006 to urge people, in general, to take a peek at his most loved artists work. Space additionally gives a home to Nomad organization CulturesInterface, which frequently travels Africa, Europe, and the Americas to feature North African and Mediterranean artwork.
Strolling through Casablanca is something that very few Moroccans, let alone tourists, ever do. In many ways, it's the last option behind driving luxury cars, uber, personal drivers and taxis. A place you venture on a walk only if you have reason to do so. Hey L.A, know a place like that?
Architecture lovers will nerd out on the city's various building styles, from Art Deco to drastically present day structures molding the skyline. To really comprehend the stories behind the city's incredible structures, please visit Casamémoire, a not-for-profit conservation association attempting to have parts of the city assigned as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Hassan II Mosque, the biggest mosque in Morocco, is a demonstration of incredible craftsmanship. It took over seven years and upwards of 10,000 artists to finish the mind boggling gem.
Hassan II Mosque
The palm-lined Boulevard Mohammed V, in the core of old Casablanca, is an indication of the French impact on the city. One of the finest cases of Art Deco outline, Cinéma Rialto, located off the main drag. A restored Casa gem that would have once screened the hit film to a delightfully bemused audience in its golden years. Now only on special occasions.
I wasn't so fortunate on this trip.
Mahkama du Pacha, situated in the Habous neighborhood and built in the mid-1950s, is a Moroccan architecture and craftsmanship pearl. Église du Sacré-Couer, a desacralized house of prayer built in the '30s, now has concerts and art shows is a striking blend of Gothic and Art Deco style. Église Notre Dame de Lourdes erected in the '50s is an excellent case of Brutalist engineering with mesmerizing stained glass windows.
When the French hauled out of Morocco in 1956, they left a gratefulness for excellent cuisine and drink that holds on right up 'til the present day. Paris-style bistros are dug in deep into Casablanca's culinary scene, and French fixings implant top eateries that are not apparently that Gallic.
In spite of its gimmicky name, Rick's Café has turned out to be one of the city's chicest eateries and bars since its 2004 establishment. Motivated by the film, the stunning riad brings out the allure and exoticism of the city's true to life's grandness. By night, bartenders in white coats and red fezes pour mixed drinks for a sophisticated audience eating on parfait de foie gras, broil duck in mango sauce and other French-tinged claims to fame.
Rick's Cafe staff
Visitors, especially film fans, can't avoid feasting at Rick's Café, on account of the excellent cuisine, as well as candle light of the sultry climate coming alive with images of Bogart, Bergman, and Sam tickling the piano in the smoke-filled venue.
American proprietor Kathy Kriger got every one of the details correct, from the mosaic-tiled floors, angled entryways to the piano man who taps out Sinatra tunes and 'As time passes by' to guests enjoying a nostalgic evening. The culinary experience was recently reinvented with joint Kathy Kriger
efforts from gourmet chefs from the
Patrons who book the 'Taste of Place,' in advance, get a private tour through the gin joint with Kathy Kriger after a four-course wine combined dinner that features the freshest local ingredients.
Unlike Marrakech, Casablanca has a buzzing food scene fueled by locals and expatriates. La Corniche, the city's waterfront road, fixed with umbrella-shaded bistros, chic beach clubs, and oceanfront eateries, wouldn't appear to be strange on the French Riviera or California coast.
Jaw-dropping Atlantic sunsets and stylish locals have made Le Cabestan the reservation to score on La Corniche, going back all the way to 1927, when the chic French restaurant initially opened its doors to folks. Even though the 2011 remodel has kept the restaurant relevant; the local favorite now has a rivalry from Bleu and numerous new establishments lining La Corniche.
Finally for dessert, find yourself at the crossroads of Boulevard Moulay Rachid and Boulevard d'Anfa, where you'll gaze upon Villa Zevaco. A sleek, modernist 1949 house that appears as if it was flown in from Palm Springs, has become a beautiful location of Paul, the upscale French patisserie chain. This socially buzzing playground for fashionistas and locals serves sorbets, chocolate croissants, hot chocolate and a brilliant brunch to Casa's air-kissing socialites.
Surfing the Atlantic
There's an authentic surf culture. Casablanca's scene is reminiscent of Huntington Beach, somewhat coarse and surf-crazed. Surf schools line La Corniche, women paddle out in burkinis, and every
September surf stars from around the world travel here to contend in the Quiksilver Pro surf event. The neighboring little shoreline town of Dar Bouazza feels more like Santa Monica with its upscale houses and cafe-lined streets. The talented surfers from Ain Diab Surf School will take you to take out to the best breaks. Kitesurfing is also gaining popularity along the Moroccan coast. After your surf session, stop by Kai Shapes, a new funky surf shop run by an American shaper and expat.
Get lost in the old Medina
To truly understand Casablanca, you need to know the old Medina, the spot where the seed of the city fell long ago off the tourist map. The best entrance is the Marrakech gate, near the clock tower. There is no dependable plan for the place, but with a bit of aimless wandering, you may discover your way back out. For fun, put your phone away.
Old Medina, Casablanca
There are carts loaded down with seasonal vegetables, mounds of olives and organic products, children playing with marbles and traditional toys; old ladies sit in doorways fanning themselves in the late-afternoon heat. There are knife sharpeners, tailors, water-merchants, goats chewing on old newspapers, piles of trash and stalls blending tea infused with fragrant mint. I met an old Saharan man who was offering magical potions from a battered dark box like an alchemist. Before I had an opportunity to open my mouth and complement his wizard beard, he opened the container and yanked out a fibrous strand of root. "Viagra from the desert," he stated, smiling. "Bite it before you go to your bedroom, and the morning your lady will be smiling very hard." I walked away fast to find another old alchemist character claiming the same root helped detox your digestive tract and gave you the shits. Don't take chances with these old wizards. Just like Hollywood, consult your doctor when purchasing boner pills.
As someone who's having a never-ending love affair with Casablanca(film and city), as I write this article, I shiver at the prospect of the considerable number of tourists and the change it will bring to this port city gem. My nervousness is propelled by selfishness obviously because I'd rather keep things how they are and have everything to myself, but this city has true magic that a Hollywood soundstage only gives a peek into Caza's brilliance.... Someday you'll understand that. Here's looking at you, kid.
Who am I kidding? Nobody tops Bogart!