Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city and its commercial hub with a large and busy port. The size and location of the port made Casablanca a valuable prize for a series of conquerors throughout history since the Berbers first settled here in the 10th century BC and called it “Anfa” or ‘hill’ in English. The Princes of the Sea (the Phoenicians) used it as a port and the Romans were occupying the area by 15 BC. By the early 15th century, the harbour was infested with pirates and the Portuguese, who felt they lived far too close for comfort, attacked and destroyed the town in 1468. They rebuilt it as Casa Branca (Portuguese for White House) and controlled it until an earthquake destroyed it in 1755. The Spanish rebuilt this time and renamed it Casa Blanca. By 1907, the French had wrested control of this strategic port and Morocco was a French colony until 1956. During this time, Casablanca became Africa’s biggest harbour and Morocco’s economic centre.
Casablanca is also home to the Hassan II Grand Mosque, the largest in Morocco and the 7th largest globally. The minaret is the largest religious structure in the world. It’s located on a promontory facing the Atlantic Ocean and the sea can be seen through the glass floor in the hall. It can hold up to 25 thousand worshippers inside and another 80 thousand or so within the surrounding grounds.
Non-Muslims are allowed to visit however appropriate dress must be observed. For women this means covering the shoulders and arms and hems below the knee (if wearing a dress). Stockings or socks (with trousers) need to be worn because you have to take your shoes off before entering and women need a headscarf. No shorts or tank tops.
Who knew? Gunpowder tea, so popular in England, takes a life of its own in Morocco. The tea is exported to the Maghreb (traditionally defined as the region including the Atlas Mountains and the coastal plains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya), where it is used in the preparation of traditional North African mint tea. The Berber tea ritual is at the heart of any social gathering. A minimum of two cups need to be drunk so as not to offend the host.