Casablanca

Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Sat 11 Oct 2008 23:17
 
 
 CASABLANCA
 
We jumped up on Saturday the 11th October and walked to the train station for the 08:50, express train to Casablanca some hour away. 34 Dirhams each, each way, about £2.50 on a very clean train with an upstairs to keep skipper thrilled.
 
 
Casablanca ( Arabic: الدار البيضاء ad-Dār al-Bayḍāʼ ).

Located on the western tip of Africa, Casablanca is essentially the capital of Morocco, an impressive city with a modern centre dominated by skyscrapers. European in character. Arabic is the official language, but French, English and Spanish are widely spoken.  Casa Branca town the Portuguese founded in the 15th century after the expulsion of the pirates, it was flattened in the earthquake of 1755. Only its name "White House" survives. Key highlights include:

  • Hassan II Mosque - the third largest religious monument in the world, second largest mosque after Mecca, perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Colonial City – the centre of French colonial existence in the early 1900s when Casablanca had a population of just 20,000. The French influence can still be felt in the wide boulevards, public parks and Arabo-Andalucian architecture of soft white lines and close detail.
  • Nouvelle Médina – the newest market quarter, rich with Morocco's most exclusive and elegant boutiques

Casablanca offers a wide range of restaurants, many of international reputation for serving fish and seafood dishes. Average summer temperatures rise to 26ºC (79ºF) with winter temperatures rarely dropping below 13ºC (55ºF). It is the country's most fertile zone and centre of its mineral deposits.

 

       

 

With a population of 3.1 million (3.85 million in the "greater Casablanca" (September 2005 census)), Casablanca is Morocco's largest city as well as its chief port. It's also the biggest city in the Maghreb and the sixth biggest city in the entire continent of Africa. Casablanca is considered the economic capital of Morocco because it is the heart of Moroccan business; the political capital is Rabat. Casablanca is the leading city hosting headquarters and main industrial facilities for the leading Moroccan and international companies based in Morocco. Industrial statistics show Casablanca retains its historic position as the main industrial zone of the country. The Port of Casablanca is considered as Morocco's chief port and as one of the largest artificial ports in the world. It is also the largest port of the Maghreb and North Africa, busier than Marseilles. It is also the primary naval base for the Royal Moroccan Navy.

 

   

Casablanca since its formation has a reputation for extreme poverty, prostitution, crime, social unrest and the bidonvilles ( shanty towns ) that stretch for miles seen each side of the rail track on the ride into the city. Literally "tin-can town" in French, was coined in the 1920's. The bidonville people are living in dread of being evicted and put into high-rise flats which they regard as "the lowest of the low". They may hold their corrugated roofs on with rocks, but, their satellite dishes look firm enough.

 

       

Bear with Joe and Michelle ( on the boat next to us, from Michigan been away sailing for 7 years ). The old medina has been trading since the late 19th century, it is now lapsing into dilapidation since the opening of the new medina.

 

Hassan II Mosque

 
Hassan II Mosque was built between 1987 and 1993, it was intended for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan king Hassan II.
On his birthday on the 9th of July 1980 the king said "I wish Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud until the end of time...    .. I want to build this mosque on the water, because God's throne was on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God's sky and sea".
 
   
 
The Hassan II Mosque has space for 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 outside. As that is so many shoes, you carry them in a bag and hide them in special bags behind where you kneel, each special bag holds about ten pairs. The 210-meter minaret is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around. Many Casablancans have mixed feelings about Hassan II Mosque. On one hand, they are proud that this beautiful monument dominates their city. On the other, they are aware that the expense (estimates range from $500 to 800 million) could have been put to other uses. To build the mosque, it was necessary to destroy a large, impoverished section of Casablanca. The residents did not receive any compensation.
 
   
 
Bear under one of the walkways, me with one of the entrances. The huge area on which the mosque stands. The surrounding roads and avenues were supposed to be finished within a decade of the mosque opening, sadly this has not been realised. A new marina is due to be built nearby and much regeneration, maybe too much bitten off. Although Hassan II Mosque was designed by a French architect, it is Moroccan through and through. Except for the white granite columns and the glass chandeliers, the materials used to construct the mosque were taken from the Morocco region. 6,000 traditional Moroccan artisans worked for five years to turn these raw materials into mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, sculpted plaster moldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings. The mosque also includes a number of modern touches: it was built to withstand earthquakes and has a heated floor, electric doors, a sliding roof, part of floor is glass so worshippers can kneel directly over the sea; and lasers which shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca.
 
                   
 
One of the many chandeliers, the huge area inside and me in the men's ablution room with 41 water fountains to wash crouched around. Except at prayer times and Fridays you can go on an hour long tour for 120 Dirhams. We were on a tour, not because I have a thing about being photographed in the men's !!!!!! On the tour our 37 week pregnant tour guide, told us that removing shoes has nothing to do with religion, but like in their homes, it is to keep the carpets clean. Ditto washing, is only for getting clean before prayers, not part of the Muslim religion, something we both thought was the case. Below the ablution level are two beautiful traditional pools ( hammams ) in separate rooms, for separate sexes. Steam faucets to create the atmosphere of a Turkish Bath, the pools gently sloping to a depth of 5 feet, surrounded by beautiful lighting and wall cascades. The water temperature SHOULD be 33 degrees and the steam at a steady humidity, sadly never been used or opened to the public ( Muslim and non-Muslim ) as planned.

     

 

Rick's Cafe opened in the image of the one "used" in the movie Casablanca - which was shot entirely in Hollywood. We got to Rick's just as it closed, so as it was pouring with rain went to KFC aka Happy Food.

 

   

 

On a pretty ugly street there was a tiny piece of beautifully kept garden. Bear loved the screw shop. Amazing to see a screw shop ONLY selling screws, just like the egg shop ONLY eggs.

We left the train station at 6pm and thought 'hot cup of tea, nice cakes and a movie'. I decided we could cut through the Sale medina as it may give us a bit of shelter from the driving rain. WRONG, Bear recognised the jewelers area from our first visit, my gyro was not on and we ended up twice the distance AWAY from Beez than we started from at the station. We eventually escaped the medina and called a taxi. The taxi driver got lost taking us from the where we found him, we got out of the taxi in the building site ( marina extension ) next door, he was so concerned he kept his headlights on until the guard met us at the bollards thinking it was a huge joke, all for the princely sum of 60p. We were now not only wet through but covered in mud. My new scarf proved not to be waterproof.

 

All in all worth going to see the mosque, but that was it really.