There is Something about Casa
We visited Casablanca as a day trip from Rabat. At the time we were not overly impressed and as we were waiting for our train to leave and bring us back to Rabat, we wondered. Is this it? That was Casa? We could not help but feel disappointed. And yet now, when thinking of our time in Morocco, there are always snapshots of Casa popping up into my head. How come?
The first snapshot is the train ride into Casa. As the landscape slowly changed to urban sprawl we were shocked to discover the multitude of slums lining the rail tracks. Don't get us wrong, after so many travels in India we are used to seeing slums, we saw some in Salé and Rabat, but somehow we did not expect them to be so huge. We asked ourselves whether we were confronted for the first time with the “real” Morocco? This is for sure something we never saw again on that scale as we toured the country.
We went through the ancient medina on our way to the Hassan II mosque and enjoyed it very much. We liked the laid back atmosphere; no gentrification here, no freshly renovated buildings in blue, a place where people live, with corner shops, washing hanging from the windows, children playing in the street, housewives shopping for food, men waiting for the call to prayer. Very refreshing after Chefchaouen.
The second snapshot is from the Hassan II mosque as we approached it. It was enveloped by some morning mist coming from the sea, white clouds were playing around the high minaret and slowly vanishing as the sun got stronger. We were impressed by the scale of the building, the colours and decoration but we found the entrance fee of 12€ too steep and decided against going inside. We toured the outside quite extensively instead and got quite frustrated at all sorts of barriers blocking the way to the terraces or the sea front. All in all we found the site quite impersonal, unfriendly and “cold” but the memory of the minaret surging from the clouds against the blue sky is still very vivid.
As we walked all the way back to the city centre we discovered a bright township with white residential and office buildings, cafés, shops and restaurants, people busying around, it could have been anywhere, a modern Mediterranean city somewhere in France or in Turkey.
We eventually arrived in the quarter of the French ville nouvelle at the Parc de la Ligue Arabe. The park was undergoing a complete makeover and was a huge dusty building site, inaccessible to pedestrians. We made our way to the Cathédrale du Sacré Coeur: closed and under renovation. The final straw came with Place Mohammed V which was being resurfaced and utterly inhospitable. By that time, we were not only disappointed but downright frustrated with Casa.
We saw at last some light when we explored the streets north of Boulevard de Paris and strolled looking up at many beautiful art-déco buildings. This is the third snapshot of the day.
We had still time to kill before our train left and we decided to have a look at the British cemetery. The door was closed, so we rang the bell and after a while the door opened. A young man from Liberia invited us inside and gave us a tour of the place, which is not very big but quite interesting. There is a church in the compound, the church of St John the Evangelist, built in 1906 to cater for the then English-speaking Christian community. Its hour of fame was after the Anglo-American landing of 1942 when the troops (and no less than General Paton) used to worship here. Our friendly guide told us that many people interred in the graveyard are of British origin, most of them having come from Gibraltar. We were most surprised when he explained that the church is still active, but patronised by foreigners only: Moroccan Christians are not allowed to worship here and have to exercise their faith at home, a quasi underground community. The visit of this atmospheric and peaceful oasis in the busy town and listening to our gentle guide is the fourth and last snapshot often coming back to my memory.
So what is it about Casa?
Despite the unfriendly Hassan mosque, the unnerving building sites, we got the impression of a potentially endearing and intriguing city with a certain flair, a juxtaposition of cultures. A city on the move and definitely turned towards the future and where things are happening. Thinking about it now, we realise that in these very few hours we have only glimpsed a tiny bit of modern Morocco. If we ever go back to the country, which we will probably do, Casablanca will be on our route with more time and leisure to explore and experience.
And you know what? We didn't even look for Rick's café…
We have more pictures of Casa in our photo gallery (from image 16).
$updated from: Blog.htxt Fri 15 May 2020 14:57:26 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$