Casablanca, Day 05: The Derb Ghallef Loop

Casablanca Travel Blog

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Today I’m going to do an entire loop through some of Casa’s famous--  and infamous locations…

 

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 “borderline” with upscale apartments on my left and walled in villas on my right.

Years ago, I’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 guy… Over time this project has spread, so now much of the west side of town is packed with this apartments or “residences” as they are called, which have been a huge financial success.

I think they’ve changed Casablanca society by making it “ socially acceptable” for an upper class family to live in an apartment…

 

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 surface…

So I just hate to think of what will happen if an earthquake ever strikes Casablanca…

 

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 Casablanca…

 

Anyways… 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 city…

 

Here I find a recently finished little square where I play my first set…

 

            Music Spot 16: North Maarif Square, Rating: **

            Clean and safe, just too noisy from passing traffic…

 

Discovery 040: The Stadium

 

Casablanca’s stadium is probably the most loved and hated spot in the city--  especially when the city’s two football teams Raja and Wydad play each other, bringing out the fiercest passions of the fans of both teams…

 

I’ve never been inside it, but I have seen the chaos that goes on outside when the game is about to start…

 

I guess it’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 future… But I’m sure the folks who live around the stadium would really like for that energy to be released somewhere else.

Derb Ghallef Market

 

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 shade…

 

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 beyond… I figure I’ll explore the part of it that I missed yesterday… A pleasant walk, and I find a good breakfast spot… But not “discovery” worthy…


I reach Blvd Ghandi, and turn left through a long upscale neighbourhood stretch…

 

When I reach the next big boulevard, Abdelmoumen, I decide to loop back in towards town.

Derb Ghallef alleys
  I could head south, but I’m just not inspired by endless miles of upscale villas…

I’m starting to get worried that I’ll make a whole loop without a decent discovery, when a shabby market catches my eye up a side street… I’m pretty sure I know what that is…

Sure enough, it’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, clothes…stolen cell phones… but piracy is Derb Ghallef’s claim to fame…

 

Several times I’ve come here and found the electricity cut off, and the alleys hum with the sound of generators.  I wonder if that’s a discreet way of trying to shut down this place…  But for now, Derb Ghallef still stands…

 

042: Downtown Derb Ghallef

 

Derb Ghallef is more than just a market that has made it famous… Derb Ghallef is a neighbourhood with a “town center” that has life and a soul of it’s own.

Maarif
  It has narrow, stone alleys that give it an Old Medina feel and a street vegetable market that bustles with life. 

 

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 it…

 

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, cybercafés, etc… a fun place to stroll around.

 

In the center there’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 burst…

 

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 other…

There’s a nice shady park there as well…

 

            Music spot 18: Maarif Entrance, Rating *****

            Plenty of shade, surprisingly quiet--  but I’m sure it’s packed in the evenings…

 

045: The Twin Center

 

Just a stone’s throw away is Morocco’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.

entrance to Maarif
  A magnificent view from the top--  although it’s not as easy to get in as it used to…

 

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 aren’t going to want to make a special trip to see Morocco’s Twin Center... but I think they symbolize Morocco’s economic ambitions--  so they’re definitely worth a visit.

 

At the base, there are some beautiful hanging gardens and what I think is Morocco’s first “real” shopping mall… which only seems to be lacking in shoppers.  I’ve asked people why they don’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 less…

 

…Oh well… good try, though…

 

046: Boulevard Zraktouni

 

Outside the Twin Center is Boulevard Zraktouni, perhaps the main “artery” 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).

North Maarif boulevards
 

 

On this side of town it’s been fixed up pretty nice with flowers in the middle and is lined with modern office complexes…

 

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: ****

            I’ve met some interesting people here… quiet, shady…

 

And so, I decide to call it a day… I’ve made a full loop, and am not far from where I started this morning--  I’ve managed to see most of the cool stuff without retracing my steps.

Twin Center
..

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Derb Ghallef Market
Derb Ghallef Market
Derb Ghallef alleys
Derb Ghallef alleys
Maarif
Maarif
entrance to Maarif
entrance to Maarif
North Maarif boulevards
North Maarif boulevards
Twin Center
Twin Center
Twin Center
Twin Center
Zraktouni Boulevard
Zraktouni Boulevard
Casablanca
photo by: nathanphil