Casablanca's Cultural History
Today, Casablanca is known as an eclectic metropolitan city that never sleeps, but until 1831, it was pretty small, with just 700 inhabitants. With the French advent in 1912 and national independence in 1956, the protectorate (essentially a sugar-coated colony) had a significant impact on the architectural landscape, it even redesigned the cultural DNA of Adar Al Bayda’. Linguistically, the mother tongue is Darija (the Arabic dialect spoken in Morocco), yet most locals unfluently speak multiple languages thanks to Casa’s cosmopolitanism. The impact of foreign culture is notable; external “soft powers” have introduced new trends which are shaping Moroccan youth culture. Society is headed towards openness, acceptance and modernity as more and more voices speak up for freedom and rights, especially for minority communities. There’s a long road ahead, but Morocco is moving forward slowly but surely.
Let’s talk about cultural shifts. Moroccans place more importance on affection than ever before as they recognize its therapeutic properties for a healthy mind, body and soul. These days you’ll witness more families eating out than cooking meals at home, you’ll also notice that the parks are busier with the development of a greener city – partly fuelled by the pandemic – which has pushed Casaouis to spend more time outdoors practising sports in Anfa Park or Vélodrome. Finally, raving is becoming increasingly popular though still regarded as profane by some because of its association with nocturnal debauchery, namely sex & drugs.
To many, Casa is seen as an economic hub and the home of art-deco, but its legacy is much richer. One might grasp the rich, diverse history of the city through an architectural journey starting from the Medina, the ancestral heart of Casablanca. The Medina is surrounded by a wall and eight doors; the best known, Marrakech Gate, is at the southern entrance of the old city, adjacent to the ancient clock tower. From there, you will find yourself in the centre, characterised by a high concentration of avant-garde art deco, functionalist and modernist structures, which add a romantic touch. One of the first large towers worth a detour is The Liberty Building, nicknamed Seventeen Floors, which was once the highest in Africa.
The Casablanca of today has a brand new finance district and the Plage Aïn Diab, a former beach, now brims with trendy venues and luxe facilities. It’s on that exact same beach, not far from Morocco Mall, that a pious and humble man Sidi Abderrahmane took up residence, welcoming people in need of advice and healing. According to urban myths, he was said to cure diseases, break curses and even walk on water. After his passing, he became recognized as a Saint. This tale left behind a small island bound to the shore by an arched bridge which you can visit in the daytime. Oh, and Aïn Diab proudly displays the second highest functioning mosque in Africa, the Hassan 2 Mosque, ranking 7th worldwide; find out more about that online. Casablanca’s architecture is ever-morphing and growing due to the continuous rural exodus, the demographic increase and the swallowing of surrounding towns. Head up for the best view of Casablanca’s sprawling urban landscape, lots of the city’s highlights look even better from up high.