Casablanca, Day 05: The Derb Ghallef Loop
Casablanca Travel Blog› entry 73 of 92 › view all entries
Today Iâ€™m going to do an entire loop through some of Casaâ€™s famous-- and infamous locationsâ€¦
Discover 039: The Boulevards of North Maarif
From Laajajma, I head south once again, enjoying the quiet cool of the morning. I follow along the â€śborderlineâ€ť with upscale apartments on my left and walled in villas on my right.
Years ago, Iâ€™m told, a wealthy Iraqi had the idea of buying up old French villas on the west side of town, demolishing them and building upscale apartments in their place-- complete with underground parking and a doorman/maintanence guyâ€¦ Over time this project has spread, so now much of the west side of town is packed with this apartments or â€śresidencesâ€ť as they are called, which have been a huge financial success.
I think theyâ€™ve changed Casablanca society by making it â€ś socially acceptableâ€ť for an upper class family to live in an apartmentâ€¦
They downside? Well, watching these apartments being built, I get the impression that the developers are really cutting corners when it comes to making them structurally sound-- they make them very fancy on the outside, but not a lot of substance under the surfaceâ€¦
So I just hate to think of what will happen if an earthquake ever strikes Casablancaâ€¦
But for now, these are some very nice neighborhoods to wander around in, if you get tired of the grit and grime of much of the rest of Casablancaâ€¦
Anywaysâ€¦ I continue on up towards North Maarif, with its wide, recently spruced up boulevards with plenty of benches, palm trees, floor lights-- making this one of the classier areas of the cityâ€¦
Here I find a recently finished little square where I play my first setâ€¦
Music Spot 16: North Maarif Square, Rating: **
Clean and safe, just too noisy from passing trafficâ€¦
Discovery 040: The Stadium
Casablancaâ€™s stadium is probably the most loved and hated spot in the city-- especially when the cityâ€™s two football teams Raja and Wydad play each other, bringing out the fiercest passions of the fans of both teamsâ€¦
Iâ€™ve never been inside it, but I have seen the chaos that goes on outside when the game is about to startâ€¦
I guess itâ€™s a good thing that football serves as an outlet for the energy of the youth of the city, many of whom have no jobs and bleak prospects for their futureâ€¦ But Iâ€™m sure the folks who live around the stadium would really like for that energy to be released somewhere else.
Nearby, I find a couple of park benches, so I sit down for another set.
Music Spot 17: The Stadium, Rating: **
Quiet (at least right now!) but no shadeâ€¦
Discovery 041: Notorious Derb Ghallef
From the stadium, I continue on south until I reach Blvd Roudani-- which goes all the way to Sidi Maarouf and beyondâ€¦ I figure Iâ€™ll explore the part of it that I missed yesterdayâ€¦ A pleasant walk, and I find a good breakfast spotâ€¦ But not â€śdiscoveryâ€ť worthyâ€¦
I reach Blvd Ghandi, and turn left through a long upscale neighbourhood stretchâ€¦
When I reach the next big boulevard, Abdelmoumen, I decide to loop back in towards town.
Iâ€™m starting to get worried that Iâ€™ll make a whole loop without a decent discovery, when a shabby market catches my eye up a side streetâ€¦ Iâ€™m pretty sure I know what that isâ€¦
Sure enough, itâ€™s the internationally famous (or infamous) piracy capital Derb Ghallef market, where folks come from all over to stock up on pirated CDs, DVDs, and computer software.
Of course, other things are sold here as well-- furniture, electronics, clothesâ€¦stolen cell phonesâ€¦ but piracy is Derb Ghallefâ€™s claim to fameâ€¦
Several times Iâ€™ve come here and found the electricity cut off, and the alleys hum with the sound of generators. I wonder if thatâ€™s a discreet way of trying to shut down this placeâ€¦ But for now, Derb Ghallef still standsâ€¦
042: Downtown Derb Ghallef
Derb Ghallef is more than just a market that has made it famousâ€¦ Derb Ghallef is a neighbourhood with a â€śtown centerâ€ť that has life and a soul of itâ€™s own.
Despite being surrounded by upscale neighborhoods, Downtown Derb Ghallef seems to be a bit trapped in time-- a cool place to explore with a very edgy feel to itâ€¦
043: Downtown Maarif
From Derb Ghallef, I head across Roudani boulevard once again, and back into the heart of Maarif. But in contrast with Northside Maarif, this side of Maarif is very cramped, with rows and rows of one lane streets that turn into parking lots during rush hour. No buses in these streets-- in fact, even taxis refuse to take people to into this neighbourhood during rush hour.
The streets are laid in a perfect grid, unlike much of the rest of the city, and are lined with toy stores, cybercafĂ©s, etcâ€¦ a fun place to stroll around.
In the center thereâ€™s a pedestrian walkway with a church that has been turned into a community center, a row of cheap eateries and a couple of used bookstores that look about ready to burstâ€¦
044: Downtown Maarif Entrance
I finally reach the east entrance to downtown Maarif-- with spacious boulevard on one side with big, upscale clothing stores and cramped streets and small shops on the otherâ€¦
Thereâ€™s a nice shady park there as wellâ€¦
Music spot 18: Maarif Entrance, Rating *****
Plenty of shade, surprisingly quiet-- but Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s packed in the eveningsâ€¦
045: The Twin Center
Just a stoneâ€™s throw away is Moroccoâ€™s new pride and joy: The towering Twin Center, the highest skyscrapers in the region which, along with the Hassan II mosque, dominate the skyline of Casablanca.
I think that they were designed quite well, with an aura of both strength and elegance.
Of course, folks who have been to New York City, Chicago or Singapore probably arenâ€™t going to want to make a special trip to see Moroccoâ€™s Twin Center... but I think they symbolize Moroccoâ€™s economic ambitions-- so theyâ€™re definitely worth a visit.
At the base, there are some beautiful hanging gardens and what I think is Moroccoâ€™s first â€śrealâ€ť shopping mallâ€¦ which only seems to be lacking in shoppers. Iâ€™ve asked people why they donâ€™t shop at the Twin Center Mall and they say that the merchandise sold there is the same stuff they could buy at the market-- for much lessâ€¦
â€¦Oh wellâ€¦ good try, thoughâ€¦
046: Boulevard Zraktouni
Outside the Twin Center is Boulevard Zraktouni, perhaps the main â€śarteryâ€ť of Casablanca which loops all the way around the city connecting many of its main neighborhoods (although it does change names a couple of times).
On this side of town itâ€™s been fixed up pretty nice with flowers in the middle and is lined with modern office complexesâ€¦
047: North Maarif Market
I follow Zraktouni on north a little ways until I reach a quiet little park near a cheery neighbourhood market-- that gives a bit more traditional feel to this otherwise very modern part of town.
Music Spot 19: Zraktouni North Park, Rating: ****
Iâ€™ve met some interesting people hereâ€¦ quiet, shadyâ€¦
And so, I decide to call it a dayâ€¦ Iâ€™ve made a full loop, and am not far from where I started this morning-- Iâ€™ve managed to see most of the cool stuff without retracing my steps.