We left Essaouria early in the morning.We had a long drive ahead of us, and the rest of the day after our arrival in the city was the only time assigned for a tour of Casablanca. It was quite obvious that Casablanca not meant to be a highlight of our visit to Morocco. It did not bother us that this was the case since we had already explored the heart and soul of the country over so many days. (I will note that Rick’s Cafe, a popular destination for tourists to the city because of the movie Casablanca, was not even on the itinerary!)
Our departure from Essaouria actually ended up being a little later than planned since our luggage was late being delivered from our rooms to the bus. Youssef explained that hotels were short staffed because of the effect of COVID.
There had been a overwhelmingly positive response when Youssef asked if folks wanted to see the movie Casablanca on the bus. (I might have been the only one who said no!) The blinds were all drawn to darken the interior of the bus as the movie was played during the morning drive. I had to pop my head behind the blinds to look out and take some of these pictures.
I enjoyed listening to the dialogue in the movie even though I was not watching it. There are so many memorable lines!
Since this was our last day together in Morocco, we started saying our farewells to the people who had taken care of us during the tour – our driver Youssef, and our helper Rashid – at our stop for lunch. Youssef and Rashid had kept us out of trouble, and had gotten us, and our luggage, safely and securely to all of our destinations. They had done a remarkable job!
The land looked flat and dry as we got closer to Casablanca. There were rolling hills and farms. We could see donkeys, and occasional cows and horses. There were no camels here – like in the eastern parts of the country.
Things began to get quieter on the bus as we approached the city. In the short period of time that we had been together we had gotten to know most of our fellow travelers, and we would actually be missing many of them as we departed for our individual destinations.
The city of Casablanca was given its name by Portuguese in 1500s. The original name, Casa Branca, translates to The White House. The city was abandoned after an earthquake and rebuilt by the locals with the name Dar al-Bayda, which also means The White House. The city has suffered occupation by a few European countries during its existence, including the Spanish, and even the Vichy French during WWII.
Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. It is considered the economic “beating heart” of Morocco.
As we were entering the city, we drove next to the beach and a posh section of city. That whole area looked very clean.
The first stop in town was to take a walk along a section of the Boulevard de la Corniche next to the sea. There was nothing culturally or historically notable. It was more of a break from sitting in the bus – to stretch our legs.
The lighthouse in the distance in the picture above is called El Hank. It is the tallest lighthouse in Morocco.
After the walk, we were driven further north towards other parts of town. Casablanca was looking like a very modern city so far.
Our next stop was at the Hassan II mosque. This picture was taken as we approached the area of the mosque.Hassan II is the biggest mosque in Morocco. Unlike most mosques in Morocco, it is open for non-muslims to visit. It was built during the years 1986 to 1996. Because the government lacked sufficient funds at that time, its construction was funded by money contributed directly by the people. Folks received a receipt for their contributions, no matter how small it was.
I learnt that the three spheres on top of the minarets of mosques were meant to represent three religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Some mosques have a 4th sphere (for the important books of Islam), and others 5 (for the pillars of Islam).
We were scheduled to just see the mosque from a distance, but some people were also interested in seeing the inside of the mosque. Youssef had heard the message and internalized it, but he also was constrained to follow the itinerary that had been set for the tour.
Our next stop was the Notre Dame De Lourdes church, built in 1954 by the Franciscans. The sides of the church were of stained glass.We were told that there was a depiction of Satan on one of the stained glass windows. (I do not remember now why that piece of information was considered significant enough to convey.)
We were told that there are still Franciscans in Morocco, and that they do social work. There was a chorus practicing in the church while we were there. They looked like visitors from other parts of Africa.
Christians live under certain constraints in Morocco, and their numbers are small. They are not allowed to proselytize.
Later on in the evening, we did pass another massive cathedral building that has not served its original function for many, many, years. The building stood out against the background of the blue of the evening sky as we drove by.
We church was located in the Habous quarter of the city. (Habous means endowment.) This area was developed for needy people during the last century. The architecture is typically Moorish. Property in this part of town is now apparently considered highly desirable in spite of its origins.
The palace was supposed to be close by but it was not on the itinerary.
Before we checked into the hotel, Youssef made a last minute arrangement for some us to see the inside of the mosque. What a guy! We were squeezing in some time to try to get back to the mosque. It was touch and go, but we got there on time. He twisted enough arms so that we could buy the entrance tickets on our own quickly at the last minute, and then jump onto electric carts that would take us to the mosque itself in a timely fashion.
Once in the mosque, we rushed off to find a tour group with a guide who was speaking in English. Unfortunately, our guide was not easily understandable – in fact he was indecipherable!I have to point out that there were at least a few women in our tour group who chose to wear a shawl over their heads as a sign of respect. I thought this behavior was commendable.
The building was immense. The roof can be opened to allow the air from the outside to enter and circulate within the building. The movable roof is operated electrically.We went down to the basement of the mosque where they have the area for people to do their ablutions before prayer.
Youssef was waiting for us with the bus after the tour of the mosque, after first having dropped off the others who were not coming on the tour at the hotel. We were taken to our hotel. There would be a dinner that evening to celebrate the end of our time together.
We drove to a restaurant for the farewell dinner. Many people dressed up for the event. We stopped at Mohammed V Square on our way to dinner. There were a lot of people out on the square having fun. A person dressed in a gold covering sat on a bicycle pretending to be a statue!
Again, my impression was of Casablanca being quite a modern place.
The dinner was a relaxed affair. The musician who was entertaining us was singing songs that we could also join in. One of our friends from Arizona pulled out her smartphone to get the lyrics to the songs and also started singing beside me. That was fun. At some point, a couple in our group decided to dance to a Latino song that was being sung. They managed even though there was not much space for them to move freely.
We had to depart the restaurant much too early because people had flights to catch soon after returning to the hotel and picking up their luggage, i.e., they would not even be occupying the rooms in the hotel for the night!
There was a feeling of sadness as we began to make our way back in the bus to the hotel, and as we said our goodbyes and left each other’s company for the last time at the hotel. In a matter of a couple of weeks we had all become connected in some way.
And what about Youssef, our tour manager! What an amazing person. He managed our large group seemingly effortlessly, but there was so much of coordination work that he was constantly doing behind the scenes. He never showed a moment of frustration or impatience, always had a smile on his face, and took care of us individually, answering our every question, and going beyond the call of duty to satisfy our desires and needs. What a sweetheart. During the bus trip back to the hotel, he wished the group adieu, thanked us for visiting his country, and asked us to talk about his country and let others know about his people.
Youssef was there the next morning at 4:30 am, with some packed breakfast which he had made last-minute arrangements for with the hotel, to send us off on our way to the airport. We are going to miss him.