Casablanca is world famous because of a movie, nothing more, nothing less. I’ve never seen Casablanca, the movie, yet I was aware of two things : the movie and Rick’s Cafe. In traveling through Morocco for the past two weeks, it was almost unanimous amongst my Moroccan friends that my time would be best spent in the mountains, gorges, beach or the desert. The mention of visiting Casablanca was invariably met with a shake of the head or “Why bother going there? There’s the Mosque and that’s it”
After a very full 36 hours here in Casablanca, I have to agree with my Moroccan compadres, but in the end, it is a mandatory day trip between Tangiers and Fez. Having met up with Casablanca CS-ers, Djaffar and Maroune in the lobby of the Sheraton, they proceeded to show me a side of Casablanca, that I would have never seen by myself and to prove that in this metropolis of 8 million people, that it wasn’t just about the Mosque, but that it was about the people and Casablanca being a representation of the rest of Morocco : the land of constrasts.
Starting the day with some tea at the Sheraton, after introductions and chat, it was off to the Mosque. It is truly an impressive sight, dominating the Moroccan skyline and a truly massive structure. The Mosque was built on reclaimed land, almost half of the surface of the mosque juts into the sea. I was told that this was inspired by a verse in the Qur’an stating that “the throne of God was built on water.”
Part of the floor of this facility is glass so worshippers can kneel directly over the sea; an at night, the laser from the top of the minaret toward Mecca. Looking at the Mosque below at night, you can see the slums in the background contrasted with the opulence of the mosque
The mosque being on water were features were specifically requested by Hassan II, who declared,
“I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the Creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.”
After the guys smuggling me into the mosque, claiming I was a Muslim from India in Arabic, we flipped off our shoes and put them into the plastic bags available at the door, it was off to take some pictures. Although, the guides say that the mosque is open to non-muslims, because the mosque is only open during prayer time, where only muslims can walk in, it isn’t really open to camera flashing tourists.
The mosque is huge and cavernous and pictures really cannot capture the space and dimensions inside.
So after walking inside for about 20 minutes, they eventually kicked us out, since they had to prep for the next prayer. Eventually, it was time for lunch and it became a long tedious search for something decent to eat. Around the Mosque, there is posh and there is less than posh. We were walking in the less posh direction – so finding a place that was clean and hygenic by western standards was my requirement.
Eventually we found a nice place that served us some shared tagines for a pretty decent price – we ate two three person tagines, had some drinks and the total cost was about 16$ CDN … how can you not love Morocco for the food and the cost.
After lunch, it was time walk through the Medina and through the other side of town. What struck me was the similarity of the scene to Saturday market in Chaguanas or Port of Spain. People on the roads selling, food displayed, people eating on the side of the streets, arguments about price … also along the way we walked through part of the medina where many of the locals live, there were tons of boys and men, playing football in the Medina, something like the urban Basketball courts you would see in NYC, except the Zidane version. Walking with Djaffar and Maroune gave me a confidence, that I would have never had walking around by myself and I certainly would have never wandered into this part of town, even with my black and gold djellaba. (Note – no one except me was wearing a nice djellaba, most of them I saw were a bit dirty or made of different materials, so I still stood out like a sore thumb here)
After wandering the Medina for a couple hours, it was on for some tea at Cafe Souraz … the CSers love this place and I can see why.
Then it was on for drinks at Rick’s Cafe. This veritable high end tourist trap is a haven for Americans, who’ve seen the movie. To be fair, the restaurant is built for expats : good security, lavish decor, top shelf booze, a good expat friendly menu and endless loops and paraphernalia from the movie (with English subtitles). Note that there is no gambling in Rick’s Cafe … the bar just has the fake roulette table.