Founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th century BC, the strategic port city of Casablanca has been controlled by Berbers, Romans, Arabs, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British, and Moroccan regimes, each leaving its mark on the city.
While a few sites remain from the city’s distant past, the modern city you see today is heavily influenced by the French occupation of Morocco (The French Protectorate), established after signing the Treaty of Fez in 1912. The most persistent reminder of their influence can be seen in the remaining art deco buildings built during the 1930s as part of a project to make Casablanca into a modern city.
During World War II, Casablanca became a prominent strategic location due to its proximity to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. At the same time, the city also became part of global culture as the fictional setting for the movie “Casablanca.” That’s right, “Casablanca” wasn’t filmed in Casablanca, so don’t expect Boogie to walk around in a trench coat outsmarting the Nazis. I know you’re shocked.
After World War II, Casablanca’s population grew dramatically, from about 100,000 people in 1950 to over 3 million. Along the way, the desire for independence from the French during the 1940s and 1950s put Casablanca at the center of the anti-colonial struggle.
On 2 March 1956, Morocco regained independence from France, and a new chapter in Moroccan history started.
Perhaps the most magnificent structure in modern Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque. Built in 1993 by King Hassan II of Morocco and is one of the most recognized landmarks in Casablanca. The mosque’s design is a mix of Moroccan and Islamic architecture, with a large central courtyard, a dome, and minarets topped by a crescent moon. With four minarets on each side of the mosque symbolizing the “four corners of the world,” the mosque can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers (but only 2,000 can pray inside at any time) and is the only mosque in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims.
There’s something fantastic about camels that you never really understand until standing right in front of one. They’re big, over 6′ tall at the shoulders, and nearly 2/3 of a ton. They’re smart, remember kindness, and enjoy an affectionate scratch or pet (think of them as really big dogs with saddles). They’re also surprisingly photogenic and often will look right into the camera, ready for their closeup.
Riding a camel takes no experience at all. Their size and feel resemble sitting on a felt-covered, substantial couch. Unlike the jarring up-down ride of a horse, the camel gently sways from side to side when it walks and never seems to be in a hurry. You also don’t have to steer a camel. Camels are pack animals and will follow the camel guide, who usually walks on foot in front.
If you think riding a camel is easy, you’d be right. It’s getting onto it is the adventure. You don’t mount a camel like you do a horse. The camels start by sitting down until you get in the saddle. That’s when the fun begins. Then, as the camel stands, its back legs straighten first, pitching the rider forward, then the front legs straighten, pitching the rider back. Then, when it kneels, it’s the same process in reverse. So remember, saddle up, lean back, then lean forward.
Ghost Tour of Fez
Over fourteen centuries have passed since the founding of Fez. One of the largest labyrinth cities in the world, the city has seen dynasties rise and fall, foreign invasion, conquest, bloody rebellion, and liberation. It’s an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, colored with hope, and tinted with blood. Guided tours of Fez focus on today and the city’s historical monuments and highlights, overlooking its colorful and sometimes dark past.
Now, for the first time in Morocco, SaharaTrek offers its exclusive guided Ghost Tour of Fez. Starting after dinner and just before sunset, you’ll get rare access to the places and stories left out of the tourist brochures.
The tour starts before sunset with a look inside the abandoned Glaoui Palace. Once a sprawling complex of twelve houses, hammams, Qur’anic schools, stables, a cemetery, and extensive gardens, it was the base of power for the Glaoui family. As powerful as they were brutal, the Glaouis’ ambition knew no bounds. They became the enforcers for the French during the occupation (1907-1956) and conspired to overthrow Sultan Mohammed V. After Moroccan independence, the blood-soaked Glaoui family was erased from history, and their multiple palaces were seized and left to rot.
As the sun sets, you’ll be driven to the hills overlooking Fez as the call to prayer echoes from a hundred mosques before heading down into the Madina. You’ll venture by foot, following your guide down the narrow, dark alleys before arriving at the Slave Market.
Slavery was abolished in Morocco in 1925, but its shadow still lingers in the Fez Medina at the Slave Market. During the day, they auction animal hides from the tannery in the market. In the afternoon, it’s a market for used clothes. But it’s when the market is empty at night that you can faintly hear the wails of despair from enslaved Christians taken by the Barbary Pirates or the sub-Saharan Africans brought over the Salt Road.
A short 2 hours after the tour starts and the darkest of the night has set in, you’ll be guided back to your Raid for the rest of the evening.
Taste of Morocco
Here’s a joke: What do Moroccans call traditional Moroccan food? Answer: Food! And traditional Moroccan food is everywhere you go, surrounding you with the smells and tastes of the exotic. With our Taste of Morocco, you’ll experience the adventure that is Moroccan street food. In Marrakech and Fez, your tour guide will not only show you the sites of Moroccan culture and history, feeding your curiosity and desire for adventure. But also stop by the small shops and workingman’s cafes where you’ll get to sample the local delicacies feeding your stomach simultaneously. Think of it as a city-wide roving buffet that can easily replace a sit-down lunch.
As you tour the cities, keep your eyes (and noses) on the lookout for some of the specialties Morocco offers, and you’ll regret missing them.
- Shebbakia: pasta ribbons with hot honey and grilled sesame seeds, commonly found during Ramadan.
- Briouats: sweet filo pastry with a savory filling, like a miniature pasilla.
- Briouats au miel: sweet filo pastry envelopes filled with nuts and honey.
- M’hencha: almond-filled pastry coils, often covered in honey or syrup.
- Cornes de gazelle: marzipan-filled, banana-shaped pastry horns.
- Pastilla: sweet pigeon or chicken pie with cinnamon and filo pastry (a specialty of Fes).
- M’laoui: flat griddle bread from dough sprinkled with oil, rolled out, and folded several times.
- Bissara: thick beans soup, usually served with olive oil and cumin.
- Olives: come in numerous varieties,
- Almonds, walnuts, and dates.
- Bread: almost always round like a cake and tears easily by hand. It’s usually homemade and cooked in the public oven.
- Khlea: small pieces of beef or lamb marinated in light spices, then dried in the sun (gueddid) before being cooked and preserved in fat for up to 2 years. Still a homemade staple in rural areas, these days, many Moroccan families resort to buying it as it is so readily available everywhere.