Casablanca, Day 07: The Casablanca that is disappearing

Casablanca Travel Blog

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A pseudorestoration project

Today I’m going to dive right into the heart of a Casablanca that is fading and may someday disappear completely:  French Colonial Casablanca. 

 

See Casablanca, unlike other Moroccan cities like Fes and Marrakech, was pretty much built by the French during the Colonial Period that lasted from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1950s.  During this period they built the city with a distinctive style:  French style--  but with certain Moroccan elements, giving Casablanca a distinct and I think somewhat unique architecture.

 

Nowadays Morocco makes a big effort to preserve its traditional cities--  all the way from Arfoud to Essaouira, but not much of an effort to preserve French Colonial Casablanca.

Most of the buildings are slowly decaying, either abandoned or turned into low class apartment buildings. Even Old Casablanca’s architectural jewel--  once a world heritage site--  the Lincoln Hotel is now crumbling to the ground.  Not a lot of money is being put into preserving these buildings. I guess that’s understandable, after all, many Moroccans would just rather forget that they were ruled by the French for half a century.

 

Personally I find this decay fascinating.  Walking up and down Old Casablanca’s streets if I try really hard, I can still taste what Casablanca must have been like back in the day… And I feel the sense of urgency that I need to immerse myself in this feeling as much as possible before it’s forever too late.

And today will be a day for just that… Today I’m going to search for the fading gems of the Colonial Days.

 

Discovery 058: French-Moroccan Architecture

 

I start right where I stopped, at the US Consulate, up a side street, and past my first “gem”.  This one is hardly recognizable as it has been all but demolished, leaving just the façade, and a big modern building is being built behind/on top of it.

The Sacre Coeur
  I guess there must be some sort of a law about not demolishing historic buildings, and these builders are bending that law as far as they possibly can…

 

A big sign in front reads “Banque Populaire, investing in preserving history”, seems almost laughable…

 

I continue on up the road… past a unique building with hexoganal turrets and sort of scale like decorations…

 

This is going to be a fun day…

 

059: Sacre Coeur Cathedral

 

My next building deserves an entry all to itself: The Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

  This is a hulking structure that seems to have been made in a hurry… none of the detail and care that you see in European cathedrals… It’s very high--  seems to have been designed to dominate the skyline more than anything else.

 

No longer in use, paint is peeling, most probably see it as an eyesore.  But for me it’s a fascinating symbol of France’s futile attempt to leave its religious stamp on this country.

 

Next to it is the large Place Rachidi--  an open space used for free open air concerts.  I’ve met a lot of very good musicians here just by pulling out my guitar--  and they happen to pass by.  Today is no exception.  Fayçal, a guitarist in an emerging band, joins me for a session…

 

            Music Spot 26: Place Rachidi, Rating: *****

            Shady, quiet, great place to meet people… does smell a bit like piss though…

 

060: Zraktouni/Hassan II Junction

 

From here I veer off to the southeast on Hassan II Boulevard (which becomes Abdelmoumen) just a little ways until I hit Zraktouni yet again.

  Here is a pretty cool junction with a couple of very modern high rises… worth a mention.

I turn left on Zraktouni and soon find a very pleasant, shady park next to the flower market and Children’s Hospital…

 

            Music Spot 27: Flower Garden Park, Rating: *****

            Very nice--  but pretty full, so hard to find a spot on a shady bench…

 

061: Courthouse Square.

 

Not interested in following wide boulevards, I dive right back into the crowded, narrow streets of Horloge, one of the business neighborhoods of downtown Casablanca, always keeping an open eye for decaying architectural gems.

Zerktouni interchange
 

 

It’s a reasonably interesting neighbourhood, with a mix of businesses and apartments--  with its own tiny little market.

 

Pretty soon I’m back out in the open, in front of some of Casablanca’s most beautiful buildings:  the courthouse and the provincial capitol. 

Very impressive architecture, and well trimmed square in front… Right across the street is “Pigeon Square” a large square with a fountain and thousands of pigeons… a popular place for an evening stroll with the kids… Not quite Jmaa Fna, but fun nonetheless.

 

062: Banque Al Maghreb Square.

 

Right next to this is another square, this one crowded with people just chilling out.

  It’s right in front of Morocco’s national bank and the main post office--  both also imposing structures.  Here’s where I had my first “official” Casablanca parkbenching session back in February 2008.  The eager response I got from folks was one of the things that got me to fall in love with Casablanca.

 

So of course, I’ve got to pull out my guitar again, just to remember old times.

            Music Spot 28: Banque Al Maghreb Square, Rating: ****.

            A little too crowded and boisterous, but you can meet a lot of cool people here.

 

063: Rue Liberté.

 

From here I head up 11 Janvier/LibertĂ© street, a very cool street lined with tons of great, cheap eateries and of course, loads of old decaying French buildings.  I stop for a bowl of fresh fruit with yoghurt which really hits the spot.

 

So, perhaps symbols of French colonial rule are fading… but they’re being replaced by some great snack shops… I’d say that’s a fair trade.

 

064: Derb Omar Market.

 

I start snaking up and down every street--  there’s so much to discover in this area, that I don’t want to miss anything…

I spot a bit mosque and it suddenly strikes me that it’s the first mosque I’ve seen in quite a while…

 

Next to it I find a bustling fish and vegetable--  well organized but a bit smelly… outside a row of fried fish stalls… Here, I suddenly feel like I’m back in “typical” Morocco again…

 

065: Casablanca’s Warehousing District

 

I continue on into the heart of Derb Omar, Casablanca’s wholesale and warehousing district.

  But were not talking forklifts, conveyer belts and sprawling parking lots with tractor trailer.  Here were talking antique cargo trucks parked out on the street, guys running in and out of the hole in the wall warehouses carrying a box at a time and heaving it up to a guy perched on top of the truck loading… Definitely not the most progressive neighbourhood in Casablanca!  You’ll even see coolies running around with wooden carts loaded skyhigh with goods!

 

Now to be fair, Morocco does have modern warehouses… but here in Derb Omar, change comes very, very slowly… fascinating to watch…

 

This is another neighbourhood that taxis loathe to take customers to due to traffic… You can buy just about anything here--  but Derb Omar seems to specialize in houseware, bedding and kitchen stuff…

 

066: Pedestrian Street

 

Heading back into the heart of town, I finally come across a French Colonial building that’s well preserved--  Hotel Majestic--  sandwiched in between two unpainted buildings…

 

Back in the heart of town, I reach Casa’s main “pedestrian street”, a cheerful though not spectacular pedestrian area with clusters of palm trees, cafes and ice cream shops.

Courthouse
I stop for a strum session…

            Music Spot 29: Downtown Pedestrian Mall, Rating:**

            It might be a good place for busking, but too many people rushing about for a decent parkbench

 concert…

 

067: Anfa Boulevard

 

At the north end of the pedestrian street, I’m just a stones throw from Bab Marrakech,where this adventure all started.  But I’m far from finished… I’ve still got the whole eastside of Casablanca to do.

Pigeon square
 

 

Before I decide to call it a day, I head out west just one more time, being careful not to retrace my steps anywhere, to where Boulevard F.A.R. becomes Boulevard Anfa.  This is one of my favorite spots in Casablanca.  I often come here right around 6 PM to grab a delicious fruit juice, just as the sun is setting, reflected in the glass of the midrises along Anfa Boulevard, bathing everything in rich evening hues.  People rush about, jostling to get on the buses, the taxis… hundreds of children tussle and fight as they head home from school… businessmen, government workers, laborers, beggars all mix together in one giant soup right at this spot…

 

Somehow I feel that all the good, the bad and the ugly of this city comes together right here…

Today I’m going to dive right into the heart of a Casablanca that is fading and may someday disappear completely:  French Colonial Casablanca. 

 

See Casablanca, unlike other Moroccan cities like Fes and Marrakech, was pretty much built by the French during the Colonial Period that lasted from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1950s.

  During this period they built the city with a distinctive style:  French style--  but with certain Moroccan elements, giving Casablanca a distinct and I think somewhat unique architecture.

 

Nowadays Morocco makes a big effort to preserve its traditional cities--  all the way from Arfoud to Essaouira, but not much of an effort to preserve French Colonial Casablanca. Most of the buildings are slowly decaying, either abandoned or turned into low class apartment buildings. Even Old Casablanca’s architectural jewel--  once a world heritage site--  the Lincoln Hotel is now crumbling to the ground.  Not a lot of money is being put into preserving these buildings. I guess that’s understandable, after all, many Moroccans would just rather forget that they were ruled by the French for half a century.

 

Personally I find this decay fascinating.  Walking up and down Old Casablanca’s streets if I try really hard, I can still taste what Casablanca must have been like back in the day… And I feel the sense of urgency that I need to immerse myself in this feeling as much as possible before it’s forever too late.

And today will be a day for just that… Today I’m going to search for the fading gems of the Colonial Days.

 

Discovery 058: French-Moroccan Architecture

 

I start right where I stopped, at the US Consulate, up a side street, and past my first “gem”.  This one is hardly recognizable as it has been all but demolished, leaving just the façade, and a big modern building is being built behind/on top of it.  I guess there must be some sort of a law about not demolishing historic buildings, and these builders are bending that law as far as they possibly can…

 

A big sign in front reads “Banque Populaire, investing in preserving history”, seems almost laughable…

 

I continue on up the road… past a unique building with hexoganal turrets and sort of scale like decorations…

 

This is going to be a fun day…

 

059: Sacre Coeur Cathedral

 

My next building deserves an entry all to itself: The Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

  This is a hulking structure that seems to have been made in a hurry… none of the detail and care that you see in European cathedrals… It’s very high--  seems to have been designed to dominate the skyline more than anything else.

 

No longer in use, paint is peeling, most probably see it as an eyesore.  But for me it’s a fascinating symbol of France’s futile attempt to leave its religious stamp on this country.

 

Next to it is the large Place Rachidi--  an open space used for free open air concerts.  I’ve met a lot of very good musicians here just by pulling out my guitar--  and they happen to pass by.  Today is no exception.  Fayçal, a guitarist in an emerging band, joins me for a session…

 

            Music Spot 26: Place Rachidi, Rating: *****

            Shady, quiet, great place to meet people… does smell a bit like piss though…

 

060: Zraktouni/Hassan II Junction

 

From here I veer off to the southeast on Hassan II Boulevard (which becomes Abdelmoumen) just a little ways until I hit Zraktouni yet again.

  Here is a pretty cool junction with a couple of very modern high rises… worth a mention.

I turn left on Zraktouni and soon find a very pleasant, shady park next to the flower market and Children’s Hospital…

 

            Music Spot 27: Flower Garden Park, Rating: *****

            Very nice--  but pretty full, so hard to find a spot on a shady bench…

 

061: Courthouse Square.

 

Not interested in following wide boulevards, I dive right back into the crowded, narrow streets of Horloge, one of the business neighborhoods of downtown Casablanca, always keeping an open eye for decaying architectural gems.

 

 

It’s a reasonably interesting neighbourhood, with a mix of businesses and apartments--  with its own tiny little market.

 

Pretty soon I’m back out in the open, in front of some of Casablanca’s most beautiful buildings:  the courthouse and the provincial capitol. 

Very impressive architecture, and well trimmed square in front… Right across the street is “Pigeon Square” a large square with a fountain and thousands of pigeons… a popular place for an evening stroll with the kids… Not quite Jmaa Fna, but fun nonetheless.

 

062: Banque Al Maghreb Square.

 

Right next to this is another square, this one crowded with people just chilling out.

  It’s right in front of Morocco’s national bank and the main post office--  both also imposing structures.  Here’s where I had my first “official” Casablanca parkbenching session back in February 2008.  The eager response I got from folks was one of the things that got me to fall in love with Casablanca.

 

So of course, I’ve got to pull out my guitar again, just to remember old times.

            Music Spot 28: Banque Al Maghreb Square, Rating: ****.

            A little too crowded and boisterous, but you can meet a lot of cool people here.

 

063: Rue Liberté.

 

From here I head up 11 Janvier/LibertĂ© street, a very cool street lined with tons of great, cheap eateries and of course, loads of old decaying French buildings.  I stop for a bowl of fresh fruit with yoghurt which really hits the spot.

 

So, perhaps symbols of French colonial rule are fading… but they’re being replaced by some great snack shops… I’d say that’s a fair trade.

 

064: Derb Omar Market.

 

I start snaking up and down every street--  there’s so much to discover in this area, that I don’t want to miss anything…

I spot a bit mosque and it suddenly strikes me that it’s the first mosque I’ve seen in quite a while…

 

Next to it I find a bustling fish and vegetable--  well organized but a bit smelly… outside a row of fried fish stalls… Here, I suddenly feel like I’m back in “typical” Morocco again…

 

065: Casablanca’s Warehousing District

 

I continue on into the heart of Derb Omar, Casablanca’s wholesale and warehousing district.

  But were not talking forklifts, conveyer belts and sprawling parking lots with tractor trailer.  Here were talking antique cargo trucks parked out on the street, guys running in and out of the hole in the wall warehouses carrying a box at a time and heaving it up to a guy perched on top of the truck loading… Definitely not the most progressive neighbourhood in Casablanca!  You’ll even see coolies running around with wooden carts loaded skyhigh with goods!

 

Now to be fair, Morocco does have modern warehouses… but here in Derb Omar, change comes very, very slowly… fascinating to watch…

 

This is another neighbourhood that taxis loathe to take customers to due to traffic… You can buy just about anything here--  but Derb Omar seems to specialize in houseware, bedding and kitchen stuff…

 

066: Pedestrian Street

 

Heading back into the heart of town, I finally come across a French Colonial building that’s well preserved--  Hotel Majestic--  sandwiched in between two unpainted buildings…

 

Back in the heart of town, I reach Casa’s main “pedestrian street”, a cheerful though not spectacular pedestrian area with clusters of palm trees, cafes and ice cream shops.

I stop for a strum session…

            Music Spot 29: Downtown Pedestrian Mall, Rating:**

            It might be a good place for busking, but too many people rushing about for a decent parkbench

 concert…

 

067: Anfa Boulevard

 

At the north end of the pedestrian street, I’m just a stones throw from Bab Marrakech,where this adventure all started.  But I’m far from finished… I’ve still got the whole eastside of Casablanca to do. 

 

Before I decide to call it a day, I head out west just one more time, being careful not to retrace my steps anywhere, to where Boulevard F.A.R. becomes Boulevard Anfa.  This is one of my favorite spots in Casablanca.  I often come here right around 6 PM to grab a delicious fruit juice, just as the sun is setting, reflected in the glass of the midrises along Anfa Boulevard, bathing everything in rich evening hues.  People rush about, jostling to get on the buses, the taxis… hundreds of children tussle and fight as they head home from school… businessmen, government workers, laborers, beggars all mix together in one giant soup right at this spot…

 

Somehow I feel that all the good, the bad and the ugly of this city comes together right here…

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A pseudorestoration project
A pseudorestoration project
The Sacre Coeur
The Sacre Coeur
Zerktouni interchange
Zerktouni interchange
Courthouse
Courthouse
Pigeon square
Pigeon square
Casablanca
photo by: nathanphil