You Must Remember This

Casablanca
October 2014

The Casablanca people imagine doesn’t exist. That 1940s Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman Casablanca was shot entirely on a Hollywood soundstage. It’s just as false as that fake Morocco at Epcot Center or that very short-lived 1980s TV sequel starring David Soul.

The real Casablanca is a noisy, quasi-modern city of gorgeous art deco buildings in the downtown, a sweeping seaside corniche, a busy port, a hardscrabble medina on one end of town, and a touristy medina on the other. There is fine cuisine in the center — Al Mounia and L’Ecole Central are especially good places I visited — and you can get alcohol more easily in Casablanca than anywhere else in Morocco. The French influence is most noticeable here, as well. The people are a little more liberal and the head scarves are less common.

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque

Rising above it all is the Majestic Hassan II Mosque. Hassan II is the third-largest mosque in the world, with room for 25,000 for Friday prayers. It is the only mosque in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims. From its perch overlooking the Atlantic, the mosque is a thing of beauty inside and out, reflecting its nearly $1 billion cost.

That’s pretty much it for Casablanca, though. If you’re arriving in the early afternoon, tour the art deco sector, have a nice leisurely dinner and a drink, get up early to visit the mosque, and move on to the next place.

The city does make one concession to the Hollywood Casablanca, if that’s why you are here. There is a Rick’s Cafe at the port. I’m told the piano player will play “As Time Goes By” as often as you’d like.

One cliché from the movie does ring true. My flight out of the country takes off at dawn into a thick fog.

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