We landed in Casablanca after a 3 hour flight (plus a full day of travelling from Plymouth to London Gatwick) on the 11th March. We were a day early & were to meet the rest of our group that evening. It was a warm dusk in this busy city and even in the taxi ride to our hotel we could see how vast this place is. Casablanca’s architecture is a fusion between contemporary glass sky scrapers & beautifully crumbling French buildings. Casablanca is Morocco’s chief port and industrial, economic and business centre, while the national political capital is Rabat.
One tip we learned from our Lonely Planet book, that I am going to tell you is: You will mostly likely be pestered by individual men claiming they are taxi drivers the moment you step out of the airport and they will try to usher you into their car if you look like a little lost tourist. Don’t follow them. Chances are it’s a con. You will usually see the majority of Taxi drivers waiting in a group & by their rusty, beige Mercedes (that looks like it’s driven out of a 1970’s film set, which I find quite charming) just across the road. With a Taxi ride from the Airport to your hotel discuss the charge before you get into the car and you usually pay about 250 Dirham (which is about 20 pounds), do not let the driver over charge. Tipping is also a must do in all of Morocco, so remember to tip!
After a 20 minute drive from the airport and through the streets of Casablanca (Including what looked like a rough area & we worried the driver had taken us to the wrong place), we finally arrived at the lovely Hotel Maamoura. Apart from one noisy neighbour who left his television on loud, the hotel was decent with Moroccan interior design through out, our room was simple & spacious, yet elegant with a balcony and we had a flushing toilet, oh the luxury! This hotel is great for the traveller who needs an over night pit stop or for those who perhaps want a couple of nights stay in Casablanca in order to see the main sights like the Mosque, ancient medina & market place.
On the first day, after we discarded our back packs in our hotel room, we hopped into another taxi and went to visit the marvellous Hassan II Mosque. The Hassan II Mosque was built between 1986 and 1993 for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan king Hassan II. The Hassan II Mosque has space for 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 outside. The 210-meter minaret is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around. This sacred building really is a spectacle as you drive or walk towards it. The Mosque itself was designed by a French Architect and all of the granite, plaster, marble, wood and other materials used in the construction, were extracted from around Morocco, with the exception of some Italian white granite columns and 56 glass chandeliers. Six thousand traditional Moroccan artisans worked for five years to create the abundant and beautiful mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, sculpted plaster mouldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings. The building blends Islamic architecture and Moroccan elements, and reflects Moorish influences, while featuring an urban design with central & under floor heating, it was built to withstand earthquakes, has electric doors, a huge sliding roof in the main hall, and lasers which shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca. When Jon & I went inside the mosque I did cover my hair out of respect although it wasn’t necessary.
Another tip for any traveller in Morocco is: Both men & women should wear clothing that covers their legs and their shoulders out of respect. Morocco is quite a lenient country towards those who are visiting, it is not mandatory for women to wear hijab and T-shirts are allowed, it is not appropriate however for tourists to prance about in stringy tops, bikinis and hot pants.
On the second day Jon & I then ventured out to the ancient medina which is kind of like a market place but is now a residential area. It is different from the other medinas in Morocco, because they have fewer tourists in Casablanca, you can take a nice stroll on this one without being approached or bothered by the vendors. The Old Medina of Casablanca is seeped in colours, smells, people and gives one a glimpse into it’s rich past. The narrow street and large assortment of vendors adds to the excitement of walking around. Every door way and alley is full of history.
Picturesque and run down at the same time the faded & dusty alley ways and the fragmented buildings are so exquisite. It’s one of the quietest & most humbling places in Casablanca. The city has grown up, around it over many years, and to me it feels like a precious stone, a diamond in the rough. We all want things to stay pristine, and most people would look at this place with resentment, wishing for it to be knocked down in order to build something seemingly more modern, more perfect and more grandiose. Humanity as a whole Settles for living in misery because we’re afraid of natural change, of things crumbling to ruins yet I revel in it’s frail simplicity & it’s ancient textures of times past, of the people who’s footsteps once pattered across those cracked roads and who’s hands touched the now flaking walls.
I look around this place with a smile, at the chaos it’s endured, the way it’s adapted and found a way to bring itself back to life again as it transitioned from a Medina to a place people call home and I was reassured. Maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic, it’s just the world that is and the only real entrapment is getting attached to perfection. Ruin is beautiful. Ruin is the road to transformation. The people who live in this ancient Medina love this place like they would a grandmother. Our western culture is too obsessed with youth and all things shiny and new, we forget the importance of wisdom & timelessness that comes with age.
Within in this bustling city, the ancient medina & quaint market place showed me that we must always be prepared for endless waves of transformation and to marvel at the richness of antiquity.
So although Casablanca isn’t technically a tourist hotspot, hence why it’s best to spend perhaps a day or two there just to tick it & it’s few landmarks off the list. I am still glad it was our first destination as it gave us a general idea of what to expect for the rest of the adventure in regards to that fusion between the ancient and the modern, the thriving city centre versus the old medina, the local market, the language, the food, the people, the winding streets and the amount of cats everywhere you look. Casablanca gives you a quick taster of part the beautifully complex Moroccan culture & what is yet to come.
Stay tuned for next weeks post about Rabat.
Photographs taken by Jon Roberts & Katie Ness. All content is copyright and owned by Sunflowerteeth & Jon Roberts Photography unless otherwise stated. You may not take images or content from this site without written permission.
*If you’d like to read about the other destinations we visited on this adventure tour, click on these links:
Day one & two in Casablanca
Day three/Afternoon in Rabat
Day Four/Morning in Meknes
Day Four/Afternoon in Volubilis
Day Five: Fes
Day Six: Midelt
Day Seven in Sahara Desert
Days Eight & Nine in Todra Gorge
Day Ten in Ait Benhaddou
Day Eleven in Aroumd/Ifrane
Days Twelve & Thirteen in Essaouira
Days Fourteen & Fifteen in Marrakesh
We flew back to the UK, midday of day sixteen.
I will be writing about our 3 weeks in Nepal shortly and will be in Bulgaria from the 13th September 2015. Stay Tuned!