The mosque at low tide

Ceiling of the Hassan II Mosque

Inside the Hassan II Mosque

Inside the Hassan II Mosque

Looking out onto the courtyard

Still pool at the hammam underneath the mosque

The enormity of the mosque

Sacre Coeur Cathedral

Inside the Sacre Coeur Cathedral

Palais de Justis

Rue Prince Moulay Abdellah

Tram lines on Blvd. Mohammed V

The walls of the old medina

Place des Nations Unies

Front of an old building

Rialto Theatre

Commerce and Industry Building

A sleeping cat and the closed central market

A grass rooftop and decaying old buildings

Casablanca from the plane

Casablanca, Morocco

Past and Present in Modern Morocco

January 8, 2013

So don't sing me your songs about the good times

Those days are gone and you should just let them go

God help the man who says "If you'd have known me when..."

- The Gaslight Anthem

Casablanca has none of the old world charm that Marrakech has. Instead it is the face of modern Morocco. A brand new tram line runs right through the heart of the city, past refurbished bright white buildings. The tram is so new that whenever it passes by almost everyone turns to look. New cars and upscale restaurants line the streets in sections of the city while respectable looking cars and well dressed people move past. Despite these nice impressions, the heavy security at the American Language Center is a reminder of the suicide bombings that took place in the area in 2007.

At a commanding spot on the coast the Hassan II Mosque was completed in 1993 and cost more than $500 million. That massive amount of money bought a spectacular building with intricate woodwork and artisan craftsmanship that took 6,000 workers six years to construct the world’s third largest mosque with a capacity for 25,000 worshippers inside the cavernous interior. The mosque’s minaret is over 200 meters tall and is the tallest building in Morocco.

Like the rest of Morocco though, the past is always present. In the heart of the city in the open expanse of the Place des Nations Unies the new tram glides past the walls of the old medina. A McDonald’s and KFC occupy a corner spot just down the street from the central market. In between each extreme are the aging art deco buildings that are interspersed throughout the city. Many of these feature distinct architecture and varying states of disrepair, speaking to the city’s heritage as a colonial center.

Today the city is still an important port and economic center for Morocco. You can feel this affluence on the streets versus the other Moroccan cities I visited. Having seen the poorer sides of Morocco I imagine that the disparity between the rich and poor is especially pronounced in Casablanca. However, during my short visit the city felt very safe during the day, despite the old unkempt buildings lending a somewhat seedy aura to the sometimes quiet city streets.

As my last stop on this trip, Casablanca has been a fitting stopover on my way back to Europe. The busy international airport is connected to the city by a convenient train line in well under an hour. Past security at the cafes and stores, prices and purchases were even being made in Euros rather than Dirhams; back to reality for sure.