Morocco Tour Guide: Casablanca / Dar Beida

Morocco Tour Guide: Casablanca / Dar Beida Last updated on Thursday 22nd April 2010

With an estimated population of 3,210,000, Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. Sixty per cent of all Moroccan companies and almost every bank has headquarters here, making Casablanca the business capital of Morocco and one of the most important commercial centres in North Africa. As such, the city is also the centre for foreign trade and Morocco's main industrial centre where construction materials, furniture and glass products are manufactured.

Located near the capital city of Rabat, Casablanca is also the country's main Atlantic seaport with one of the world's largest man-made harbours featuring the 3,180 metre-long Moulay Youssef Jetty with fishing and fish-canning as the leading industries. The city is the site of Hassan II University, established in 1976.

The origins of Casablanca trace to the medieval town of Anfa set on a small plateau which is now one of the city's suburbs. Anfa became the capital of a Berber principality in the aftermath of the Arab invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries. The Berbers embraced Islam but quickly succumbed to heretical doctrines, setting up their own prophet and a "qur'an" in Berber language.

The principality was known as Berghouata and its tribal inhabitants joined a Kharijite rebellion against the Arab governor of Tangier.

In the 11th century the Almoravids waged holy war against these heretics who were finally defeated by the Almohad Sultan Abdul Mou'min.

The town came under the influence of the Merinids during the 13th century but eventually became independent as the dynasty weakened. It was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1468 in reprisal for piracy. They sent a fleet of 50 vessels and 10,000 soldiers to occupy the town which was sacked and then abandoned. But piracy soon revived and the Portuguese returned in 1515 and destroyed the town once again.

In 1575 the town was rebuilt, fortified and renamed Casa Branca by the Portuguese in an attempt to establish control over the area. However, the Portuguese rulers fell under constant attack by surrounding Muslim tribes and were finally forced to abandon the town following a terrible earthquake in 1755.

Under the reign of Sidi Mohamed ben Abdallah (1757-1790) the town was rebuilt with a mosque, madrasah, hammam and a fort and renamed Dar Al Beida (The White House) which the Spanish eventually translated to Casablanca after trade became well established with merchants from Cadiz and Madrid.

After a rebellion led by the caid of Dar Al Beida zawiyya, Sultan Moulay Sliman closed the port and diverted all trading with Europe to Rabat.

In 1830 Sultan Moulay Abdal Rahman re-opened Dar Al Beida harbour but business remained sluggish for some time and the city remained small with a population of no more than 600.

Birth of the modern city

It wasn't until the mid-19th century that Casablanca began to grow as a result of regular sea traffic between Europe and Morocco. European textile manufacturers needed new sources of raw materials, and French merchants arrived to negotiate the purchase of Moroccan cereals.

Commercial relations between Casablanca and Europe became stronger with the development of the city's harbour facilities and the establishment of regular maritime services between Morocco and Marseilles. French influence in Morocco increased throughout the remainder of the 19th century.

In 1906 construction began on a modern harbour facility for Casablanca under French supervision, but on 30 July 1907 nine workmen were massacred and the French consulate was besieged. The French government sent in an expeditionary force and occupied the city.

In 1912 General Lyautey was appointed Resident-General and completed the construction of the harbour, making Casablanca the country's economic centre. As a result the city grew into the country's major metropolitan centre until independence in 1956.

Independence caused a temporary decline in Casablanca's fortunes but gradually the city regained its economic position as a powerhouse of North Africa.

Hassan II Mosque

One of the largest and most spectacular mosques in the world, the newly constructed Hassan II Mosque covers 2 hectares of land. It has a prayer hall that can accommodate 25,000 worshippers and a piazza that can accommodate another 80,000. It also has the world's tallest minaret, soaring 200m above the city.

The mosque is a monument to Moroccan craftsmanship, built by 3,300 craftsmen brought from throughout the country. These artisans installed 53,000 sq m of carved wood, 67,000 sq m of plastering and 10,000 sq m of sculpted ornamentation. The mosque also features a retractable roof which can transform the mosque interior into a vast open courtyard.

General information

Tourist Board
55, rue Omar Slaoui
Tel: 27 11 77 / 27 95 33

Tourist Information Office
95, boulevard Mohamed V
Tel: 22 15 24

Police/First Aid (Police Station)
boulevard Brahim Roudani
Tel: 19

Fire Service
rue Alaymouna
Tel: 15

All night chemist
place Mohamed V
Tel: 26 94 91

Highway emergencies
Tel: 177

C.T.M./L.N. Buses
23, rue Mohamed Kamal
Tel: 26 80 61-67

Railway station
Casa Port
Tel: 22 30 11 / 27 18 37

Casa Voyageurs
Tel: 24 38 18 / 24 08 00 / 24 58 01

Royal Air Maroc
44, avenue des F.A.R.
Tel: 31 11 22

Mohamed V Airport
route de Marrakech
Tel: 33 91 00

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