Bogey dealt with nefarious characters and a lost love, but he didn’t have to face hordes of motorbikes and honking traffic playing dodg’em with pedestrians. To cross the street in Casablanca these days, you join a cluster of savvy locals and walk fast. New to Morocco, we latch quickly onto Younes, a friendly guide/taxi driver, and he helps a lot. An urban guy with a sense of humor, Younes shows us the sights.
Rick’s Cafe is here–a very nice restaurant–but no other hint of Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman or Humphrey Bogart. Why would there be? The movie was filmed entirely in Hollywood. This is a bustling port city of 3.5 million people and it seems like just as many cranes at construction sites, working on new resorts and commercial developments.
Still, there’s enough exotic intrigue in the name to have allure, and there’s one big–make that immense–famous draw: the Hassan II Mosque. No question, it’s hiuge, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. It ought to be, for $800-$850 million (reports vary). The complex, on the edge of the Atlantic, has a square that can hold 80,000 people, and the minaret on the mosque itself is the highest in the world–210 meters. The intricate tilework, perfectly carved arches, and fountains are stunning. It took hundreds of workers and artists years to complete. It’s one of the few mosques open to non-Muslims, who can see it on guided tours.
We marvel over the place even as we shake our heads over royal opulence close by the miserable housing of the poor. But that’s only one viewpoint. The people here are very proud of their fabulous mosque, according to Younes.
Across the bay is another Casablanca landmark, the lighthouse. And there’s La Corniche, the beach and boulevard that curves beside it. Lots of cafes and trendy hangouts here, along with KFC and McDonald’s.
Casablanca has the appeal of vibrant life and action. It has that astounding mosque. And the pianist at Rick’s Cafe does play “As Time Goes By”–but we’re heading for other, still-old parts of Morocco.