Morocco 2017 – Welcome to Casablanca!

Mosaic facade on the Main Post Office in Casablanca

A red-headed cowboy leaning against a pillar in baggage claim, lifts his gaze from his phone.  It’s Doug Baum, our tour guide and ‘camel guy’ for the next two and a half weeks.  He offers to assist Brenda with her luggage, and looks around for mine.  I grin, and hold up my purse, and say “this is it, I’m traveling light this trip.”  “Oh Girl!” he exclaims with an air of disbelief.  

“Nothing is going to ruin this trip.  I’ve got the critical things I need, and I’ll buy new clothes in Fez.  Let’s go!”

I will not allow myself to be stressed or let lost luggage ruin this trip.  I obeyed that nagging voice in Seattle and repacked essentials.  Everything else can be replaced.  “It’ll be fun.  No stress!” I shout in Doug’s direction,  “you are not allowed to stress out about this!”  When I’m sure that we both actually believe those words, I start to laugh.  What else are you gonna do?

I comment about the unexpected site of green fields stretching to the borders of my vision.  Doug says it’s been a wet spring here, so everything is even more green than usual.  We climb into his car and he starts the conversation with a snapshot of the culture we are about to encounter.

  • My introduction to Morocco begins in Casablanca, the largest city in the country with about 31 million people, and the country’s industrial capitol. Today it is one of the four largest metropolises in all of Africa. The city was originally Berber, and was destroyed at least twice over the past 8-9 centuries. Click here for more history of this fascinating city.
  • The population of Morocco is one-third Arab and two-thirds Berber, with Derija (an Arabic dialect) and Tamazight (Berber) being the primary languages, followed by French, Spanish and a smattering of other languages. Morocco gained its independence in 1956, although its cultural history traces its lineage to pre-Roman times.

We meet up with Mark and Catherine, who have arrived from Australia, and start a walking tour of Casablanca with Nezha Sebti, our local guide. Nezha leads us down Boulevard Mohammed V, which slices through the city from its center to the waterfont, past a number of colonial era and Art Deco landmarks, including the Rialto Cinema, still in operation. Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf both performed here. The Palais de Justice, and the old French, British and German consulate buildings.

The Main Post Office caught my most fervent attention, with its stunning blue and green mosaic tile facade — an example of “Mauresque” architecture, a blending of Moorish elements, European Art Deco and Art Nouveau, which gives Casablanca its distinctive architectural flavor. The style dates back to the French Protectorate period (1906 – 1930’ish). A photo of some of the tilework is at the beginning of this blog, with additional photos at DavenoTravels.

We end our walking tour at Rick’s Cafe, inspired by the film Casablanca which was actually shot on a sound stage in the US.  All I can remember is the white tablecloth, and the Coca-Cola, poured from small glass bottles into tumblers filled with ice, each garnished with a wedge of lime.  My fatigue sets in as we finish our first dinner, and walk out through the thick crenelated wall of the medina, past a cannon and on to our lodging at Hotel Barcelo.

The next morning, breakfast is at the Terrasse Cafe Restaurant on the Corniche. It’s my first view of the Atlantic Ocean, and my first taste of tagine — Morocco’s national cooking style — this one is an egg and meat dish swimming in oil, which our driver, Mohammed, shared with me.

The sea is stormy-grey against a pale blue sky, and I can see a lighthouse in the distance.  Bagpipes below us add a humorous underlay to the morning’s conversation.

The Corniche in Casablanca

Today’s plan includes a visit to the Municipal Building – a miniature version of the Lion Courtyard from the Alhambra (which I visited in Granada). The building was crawling with police since the King was in residence, and I had to be very careful in aiming my camera away from them.

Afterwards, Doug and I spent an hour shopping at a nearby souk, where I begin building my Moroccan wardrobe. I come away with a nice (and expensive) striped caftan, and an embroidered cotton tunic with pants included (yay pants!)

Our next stop is the Hassan II Mosque. the largest in Morocco and the fifth largest in the world.  The prayer room has a glass floor over the sea, and a retractable roof, and accommodates 25,000 worshippers. We weren’t able to go inside, but I explored as much of the exterior as we had time for.  We also got to watch workmen doing restoration work on both a fountain and the mosaic work over one of the side doors.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

On the other side of the expansive courtyard, we walked past the madrasa – a university for Koranic study, and into a museum which had numerous examples of the styles of craftwork we would see up close and personal throughout this trip. I have boarded tile and plasterwork, as well as several door panels on Pinterest.

I commented to Doug on the plantings between the Hassan II courtyard and the Madras, which included palm, snake plant, and surprisingly, prickly pear. Doug said that prickly pear was brought here from Spain during the time of Columbus, and that it’s used throughout rural Morocco as organic fencing. See more of the Hassan II Mosque on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

Next stop – Rabat ….

2 Comments on “Morocco 2017 – Welcome to Casablanca!

  1. I was introduced to your blog during your Moroccan trip through Sunjan Temujin’s repost – I love your travel-logs!

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