The fascinating diversity of Casablanca’s Old Medina
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.