Originally called Anfa, meaning “hill” in the Berber language of its founders, Casablanca was until the 15th century mainly a fishing town, and a pirate outpost from which passing ships were frequently raided. Tired of being victimized by marauding pirates and determined to protect their trade, in 1468 the Portuguese destroyed the village and built a fortress, calling the new village “Casa Branca”, or “White House”.
In 1755, following a powerful earthquake that devastated many African and European cities up and down the Atlantic coast, the Portuguese abandoned Casa Branca. It was loosely ruled by Muslim dynasties, and renamed “Casablanca” for the Spanish who helped build the town center. Casablanca Morocco photography Hassam II mosque
In the 20th century, France colonized Morocco and it became a French protectorate. With the French firmly installed, the center of Casablanca was rebuilt under the direction of French architect Henri Prost, who gave it a contemporary, urban layout, with a mix of native Moroccan elements and Parisian architecture from the early 1930s
The iconic images of Casablanca for those in the contemporary Western world will always be that scene from the film in Rick’s Cafe, a place that never really existed, and those dramatic, misty scenes with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. These images burn hotly in our collective cultural memory, for better or for worse, imbuing the city with a romance so resonant in the words of a line from the film : ‘It would take a miracle to get you out of Casablanca…’ . Casablanca Morocco photography Hassam II mosque
Upon landing in the plane on my first trip to Casablanca — also my first visit to the Maghreb and to the African continent — the landscape outside aroused in me the same anxious yearning to set foot on the ground as in most of the Moroccan passengers traveling with me, who cared little for the rules of safety and advanced steadfastly towards the exit door with the plane still fully in motion.
The Hassan II Mosque, with its 200-meter minaret, fully dominates the Casablanca skyline. During the day, its columns of white granite and Italian chandeliers are blinding in the sun, and at night the mosque glows yellow in the darkness along the coastline. Its elegant and commanding facade so imposes itself on the horizon, that even the morning sun seems a little intimidated by its presence.
The towering mosque also serves as a lighthouse for the port, a charming reminder that although known the world over, Casablanca remains at heart a fishermen’s town, one so emblematic of the Morocco that the poet Tahar Ben Jelloun described as “a country yet to be born on the edge of time and exile”.
I visited “Casa” and some of its outlying areas for a few days, and this was enough to sense the deeply rooted generosity and sensuality of its denizens, and enough time to see that “Casa ” is part of the real Morocco, the soul of Morocco, an truly exquisite and sophisticated country.Casablanca Morocco photography Hassam II mosque
Walking through the old Medina or the Habous Quarter, I passed virtually unremarked through the streets, and felt I was in the midst of a people who inhabited an authentic, genuine, and unique community, and one that remains immune to many of the onslaughts of the modern world.
In other parts of the city, this metropolis of 3.8 million souls, modern industry flowers, and young Moroccans come from the countryside seeking wealth. Casablanca is a city on the edge of Africa, so close to Europe, with a past and future shaped profoundly by both continents.
La Corniche, the city’s waterfront boulevard, is gaily lined with umbrella-shaded beach cafés, chic lounges, and ocean-view restaurants, and wouldn’t seem out of place on the French Riviera. The vibrant building boom underway in the city is visual proof that Casablanca is Morocco’s most modern city..
“Casa“ often considered the “black sheep” of Morocco, and overlooked by tourists, is a city of deep contrasts, and is perhaps the most deliciously “real” city of Morocco.
Pablo Munini © Stockholm, Sweden , October 2014 Casablanca Morocco photography Hassam II mosque
Every time I have visited a place more than once, it was always the first time I remember the most, because that’s when everything dazzles, and the thrill of discovery is heightened by thousands of new sensations.
But in October 2018, I returned to Casablanca after four years. And this trip, that I had imagined was going to be simply routine, turned out to be even more intense and rich in experience than my first one. Casablanca Morocco photography Hassam II mosque
Abdilah, the taxi driver who drove me around the city all week, became the definitive architect of my unexpectedly magnificent trip.
Abdilah knew every corner of Casablanca, did not use GPS or maps, flew down Gandhi Boulevard and the Boulevard de la Corniche as if he were on a Formula 1 track, engaged frequently with other motorists at intersections through a discourse of shouting and honks, and in each neighborhood, even the most distant, he always happened upon a friend of his, where hugs were exchanged and a long conversation ensued. Casablanca Morocco photography Hassam II mosque
For a few days, thanks to Abdilah, I passed so many times, in the span of mere minutes, between vastly different worlds, from the the sophisticated and chic Corniche or the Parisian Boulevard Al Massira to the Old Medina, the Habous, the Belvedere, Roche Noire or a shantytown in the surburbs.
It was useless to beg Abdilah to stop, to insist that we had enough time, and that those people or that street really should be photographed. Abdilah would never stop. He was much like his city, the economic capital of Morocco– following a frenetic pace, in search of fortune.
Pablo Munini © Milan , November 2018
Casablanca Morocco photography Hassam II mosque