Africa Travel News

Linger in Casablanca

Casablanca is often used as a jumping off point for travelers into more exotic tours of Morocco's interior. Yet, the city offers more than just an airport and a Hollywood nod. Outstanding grub, melting pot architecture and second-hand shops such as flea markets and antique shops make for a gem of a travel destination overlooking the Atlantic. 

Colonial history
While the region's origins stretch back to medieval times, the transformative point in modern Casablanca's history came in 1912, when France declared Morocco a French protectorate. Resident-General Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey used Casablanca as a means of conferring France's symbolic might, transforming the town into display of European architectural styles, namely art deco. Yet, Lyuatey carried a respect for the older African quarters of the region, according to Frommer's, and the result was a blend of Moroccan and French colonial into what is now known as Mauresque. 

Casablanca has since had its ups and downs, enjoying fame and recognition that led to a population influx during World War II, and which also resulted in the development of numerous shanty towns. The city shows some wear from its years of tumult, but for one reporter from the Guardian, that's no reason to avoid the city.

"These days, downtown Casablanca is still a jewel, albeit one hidden in a layer of disorder, peeling paint and grime. But, for me, that's part of the attraction," mused Tahir Shah in an insider's guide to the area.

Diamonds in the rough
Travelers to Casablanca then, have set before them a scavenger hunt. The city is a myriad of influences to immerse oneself in. The Parisian art deco style adorns some quarters, but in others, especially the older parts of the town, flavors of Portuguese and Moorish architecture find their expression. There, too, Shah reports the daily goings-on of fruit vendors, tailors and knife sharpeners. 

The city is also a bargain-scavenger's dream. Junk yards, flea markets and antique shops overflow with odd and unwieldy items, much of it left by the French after occupation. Grand pianos, old safes, crystal chandeliers, are there for the taking, as well as accordions, champagnes and ice buckets. The Telegraph recommends that travelers leave a considerable amount of room in one's suitcase for wares discovered in the Habous district.

Every traveler has at one point or another scavenged for that one essential - food. In this department, Casablanca is fortunately not much of a challenge. The relative absence of tourists means that many of the restaurants in the area must rely on a solid customer base. As a result, the food is often quality and authentic, as restaurants are meant to be enjoyed by Moroccans themselves. 

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