Who wouldn’t want to visit Casablanca made famous by the Bogart film? Of course that movie was shot in Hollywood, not North Africa. Some current guidebooks tell us that Casablanca is good as a portal to pass through on your way to more interesting places like Fez and Marrakesh. One book said that aside from the Grand Mosque of King Hassan II there is not much in the way of ‘sights’ of interest to the tourist, unless you want visit made up sites, two bars designed after the movie set, “Rick’s” and “Casablanca.”
My work took me to Casablanca three times. Twice it was a portal to conferences in Marrakesh and Rabat and once working with radio stations in Casablanca on programming. But despite, or perhaps because of the guidebooks I decided I would spend some extra time in Casablanca to find those sights that didn’t exist (while avoiding movie themed bars.)
I actually found a lot to interest me. Of course there is the Grand Mosque, which I will post on later. And there is the medina, which I will also someday get around to posting. But what I liked best was the French Colonial section of Casablanca. I would not recognize it from the movie although it is what Casablanca really was in 1941. French bureaucrats and businessman built it in a style that was a mix of Art Nouveau and Art Deco with Moorish flourishes. They called the architectural style Mauresque, (Moorish). More commonly Mauresque is known a drink made of Pastis, a licorice root [anise] liqueur, almond oil and sparkling water. It’s been around since 1932 so Rick could have served it in his movie bar, but somehow I doubt it.
Once, when I was doing training in Casablanca they put me up at the Royal Mansour, a remodeled Deco hotel sitting at the place where the Deco Colonial city meets the Medina. Nearby sits the police headquarters, built in 1930, with its clock tower, far grander than the one Claude Rains reigns over in the movie.
In the interwar period whole sections of colonial cities in North Africa were built in the art deco style. The Deco belt stretches from Cairo and Alexandria in the East to Casablanca and Rabat in the west. The highlight building for me in Casablanca is the French Cathedral Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Cathedral). (See the adjacent post.) It was built in 1930, abandoned for Catholic worship in 1956 on Morocco’s independence. It sat derelict for years and reopened as an art gallery just before I got there in 2005. It is built in a mix of Gothic and Art Deco styles with Islamic touches. The stained glass is set in cutwork geometric patterns much like the decoration in a mosque. Paul Tournon was the architect for this church turned art gallery. It serves its new purpose well.