Morocco’s Casablanca – Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid!

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco with a population of over 3 million and it is home to more than 10% of all Moroccans. Surprisingly to some, Casablanca is not a Mediterranean city, but instead is located in western Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean coast. The name “Casablanca” is of Portuguese origin, meaning “white house”. Portugal’s influence on the city began in the 15th century. The original settlement, known as Anfa, was attacked and occupied by Portugal in 1468 on the pretext of eliminating pirates who were using the port as a base from which to harass Portuguese shipping. Casablanca thrived under Portuguese rule until the Great 1755 Earthquake destroyed the town, as well as Lisbon, the capitol of Portugal. It was not until the end of the 18th century that Moroccan leader Sidi Mohammed III reconstructed the town. Although known in Arabic as Dar el Beida, it still retained the name Casablanca – both terms meaning White House in English.

Casablanca’s strategic location has made it Morocco’s largest port and the country’s economic capitol. It has been called the gateway to North Africa, and as such attracted interest from the major European powers in the early 20th century. By 1910, France had established itself in Morocco as the main authority, with the Moroccan sultan a mere figurehead. Casablanca, much like its neighbor Tangier, became a hub of intrigue and espionage in the late 1930s and the early years of World War II. Such was the setting for one of the greatest films of all time, the eponymous “Casablanca” made in 1942 and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

In the movie Casablanca, Bogart’s character, Rick Blaine, is an American expatriate who owns a Casablanca nightclub where agents, refugees, Nazis, Vichy French and Free French come to meet, greet and gamble amid the chaos of the war. Not much, if any, of Casablanca’s famed scenery is featured, unfortunately, which is too bad as the city then and now is renowned for its beauty. Modern landmarks and tourist attractions include the mammoth Hassan II Mosque with its immense glass floor, the Art Deco influenced New Town (Ville Nouvelle) and the Old Medina or Old Town, currently undergoing renovations. This is not, to my knowledge, a “Rick’s Café” in Casablanca, but I’m sure it would be a popular stop should somebody decide to build one!