Many travellers stay in Casablanca just long enough to change planes or catch a train, but the sprawling metropolis deserves more time. It may not be as exotic as other Moroccan cities, but it is the country’s economical and cultural capital, and it represents Morocco on the move: Casablanca is where the money is being made, where the industry is, where art galleries show the best contemporary art and where fashion designers have a window on the world. The old pirate lair is looking towards the future, showing off its wealth and achievements. The city saw a rapid expansion during the early days of the French Protectorate, and still attracts droves of the rural poor dreaming of a better lifestyle. Many have made it good and proudly flaunt their newfound wealth, but many others languish in the grimy shanty towns on the city’s edge. Casablancais are cosmopolitan, and more open to Western ways than other places in Morocco. This is reflected in their dress, and in the way men and women hang out together in restaurants, bars, beaches and hip clubs. But Europe is not the only inspiration.
More and more young Casablancais are realising that they come from a country with a fascinating history. Casablanca is full of contradictions. It is home to suffocating traffic jams, simmering social problems and huge shanty towns as well as wide boulevards, well-kept public parks, fountains and striking colonial architecture. The bleak facades of the suburbs stand in sharp contrast to the Hispano-Moorish, art-deco and modernist gems of the city centre, and to Casablanca’s modernist landmark, the enormous and incredibly ornate Hassan II Mosque.
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