The fascinating diversity of Casablanca’s Old Medina

Friday 15/01/2016
Darqwiya shrine sanctuary accommodates the graves of Sidi Allal el-Kairouani and his daughter Lalla Beida.

Casablanca - Casablanca, Morocco’s economic capital and most populous city, gained worldwide fame thanks to the Academy Award-winning romantic film di­rected by Michael Curtiz in 1942.
Originally named Anfa when it was settled by Berbers in the sev­enth century BC, Casablanca has a history well worth discovering.
The city’s old medina has un­dergone a major restoration after a long period of neglect. A walk down the vibrant Moha Ou Said Street reveals old houses are well maintained and occupied but oth­ers, on the brink of collapse, are abandoned. Street vendors line the narrow space all the way to Bab Marrakech square, which is filled with fish, fruit and vegetable stalls. Pyramids of colourful spices are the source of revenue for various shops.
A few metres away is the Mellah, or the Jewish Quarter, which is an integrated part of the old medina. The Mellah is not much more than a century old. A few Jews still live in the quarter and kosher butchers work in the old market. The Jewish cemetery in the Mellah is immacu­late and is proof of a once-thriving Jewish community in the city.
The Temple Beth-El synagogue is worth the visit while discover­ing the Mellah. It is one of the larg­est and most beautiful synagogues in Morocco. Heading towards the clock tower, tourists stroll through the narrow streets of the Medina adorned by various merchandise from leather clothes and tradi­tional dresses to souvenirs hanging outside a multitude of shops. They can also acquire good imitations of top designer bags and belts.
Passing through Marrakech Gate, the clock tower cannot go unno­ticed as it is glued to the Old Medi­na’s wall.
Overlooking United Nations Square, the first clock tower was built in 1911, a landmark of the colonial past. The structure was demolished in 1948 due to its pre­carious state but 45 years later, municipal authorities rebuilt the 20-metre-high tower with respect to the original design.
Around the corner, bazaar shops line Félix Houphouet Boigny Boulevard, which leads to the port.
A ten-minute walk from the Casa Port train station along the walled side of the old medina on Almo­hades Boulevard leads to the Sqala. Built in 1769 by Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdellah as a fort, this unique site is now a tourist spot. Cannons, which are still aimed at the sea, were used to protect the medina from pirates and colonial threat.
The fort has been turned into a restaurant with a beautiful Moorish interior design and a colourful gar­den. Adjacent to it is the Darqawi Shrine where Sidi Allal Kairouani and his daughter Lalla Beida were buried.
Further down is Oulad al-Hamra Mosque, believed to be the oldest standing mosque in Casablanca. It survives from Sultan Abdellah’s time when the Old Medina was constructed after the city was dam­aged by the earthquake of 1755. The neighbourhood is a witness of reli­gious tolerance and co-existence because it is also home to the Et­tedgui synagogue and the old Bue­naventura church, which has been converted into a cultural space.
Casablanca’s Old Medina is cos­mopolitan as it features many art deco buildings due to the French architectural influence during col­onisation. Many European coun­tries, including Spain and Germany chose to set up their consulates in the Old Medina.
The journey ends with a stop at Rick’s Café Casablanca. Located in Boulevard Sour Jdid, the restau­rant is an old courtyard-style riyad, which was designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Cas­ablanca. Its deco is reminiscent of the film, giving customers a perfect experience of 1940s and 1950s.