Place Verdun

The city of Casablanca extends over a surface of 1,615 Km2, and is inhabited by about 4,500,000 people mostly Arabs of the Chaouďya tribe. The population’s density is of 2,786 inhabitants per Km2. The city of Casablanca is the main country’s economic center, and its port is the first and most important of Morocco. The prefecture of Casablanca produces around 60 % of the national industry products in values. In other respects, the city gathers around 12.5% of the kingdom’s population. The first site of the city lies in the actual industrial quarter of Anfa, by the Ocean border. Anfa was an old Phoenician port, and according to archaeological discoveries of Paleolithic sites and of human remains of the “man of Casablanca”, found in 1955 in the quarries of Sidi Abderrahman, Anfa has been inhabited much earlier in time. With the occupation of Morocco by the Arabs on the 7th century, an important Berber tribe, the Berghouata, settled in the plain between the rivers Bou Regreg and Oum er-Rabie, the fertile area that extends between Rabat and el Jadida. Having rejected Islam, the Berghouata Berbers formed during the 8th century an independent kingdom, with Anfa as its capital. For about four centuries, the Berghouata of Anfa resisted the repeated attacks of the Omeyades and of the Idrissides, but was finally reduced by the Almorabids on 1068. During the 12th century, the Almowahid Sultan, Abdelmoumen used Anfa as a port for the shipping of cereals of the area. This activity continued during the 14th century, when Anfa became the trading center for locally produced corn, wheat, leather and wood. Its port became renown from Genoa to Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. During the 16th century, Anfa became an important base for pirates. The corsair’s fleet activities in the Oceans and their harassing of the coasts of Spain and of Portugal made of Anfa a powerful and flourishing small city. But the corsair’s dared raids drew upon Anfa the Portuguese’s wrath. In 1468, a portuguese naval fleet, commanded by the Infant Don Ferdinand, attacked Anfa, which was sacked and burned to ashes. But the city revived of its ashes to be captured, hundred years later, by the Portuguese, who had also occupied Mazagan (Jadida) on 1575. The Portuguese rebuilt and fortified Anfa, which they named 'Casa Branca'', that is, the “White House”, after a white shrine of a holy person. Casablanca was used as a naval base by the Portuguese to defend the important gold seaway of Mazagao in the south. Harassed by the constant military raids of the neighboring tribes, Casablanca was abandoned by the Portuguese after the earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755. The city of Anfa was but a mass of rubble when in 1770, the Sultan, Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah decided to rebuild it again. The Sultan built a mosque and a Zaouiya (religious center) within the walls, and reinforced the port’s road stead. Anfa was renamed “Dar el Beida” (House of the White Lady). According to legend, the city was named in honor of Lalla Beida, the daughter of Sidi Allal El Quairawani, a saint of the fishermen. The Sultan, Sidi Mohammed made of Dar El Beida a trading post, and the city regained, in 1781, its former name of “Casa Blanca,” when the Sultan granted to some Spanish and French trading companies the permission to establish in the city. The port of Casablanca was used, since the mid of the 19th century, by Spain and France for their importation of cereals of the Chaouďya, sheep cattle, wool and goat leather. With the French protectorate, Casablanca, began to acquire economic importance, when the General Lyautey, the first military governor of the French Protectorate decided in 1912 to make of it the most important economic capital of Morocco.

Casablanca was granted with important plans of urbanization which were to modify its topography. All the space facing the old small walled medina was to undergo important transformation. Lyautey entrusted the French architect, Henry Proust, with the task of laying out the projects of the new city. The first urbanization plan of Proust dates back to 1918, and his objective was to impose some order on the city’s previously uncoordinated expansion. Proust organized the extension of the city in concentric zones. The modern quarters were built around a center point, (the actual Avenue Mohammed V), where, till the end of the 19th century, the souk el Kebir used to be held. The streets were traced first, and then blocks of buildings were erected around circular boulevards. The port, which granted living to thousands of peoples, was enlarged and modernized in parallel with the city. But the economic crisis of 1922 slowed down the rush, which resumed in 1926 with the erection of immense buildings, which overflowed the circular Boulevards. The new city extended, like a mushroom, over a perimeter of 3 Km around the Place de France. Little by little, an European city began to emerge through a large number of modern residential blocks After 1930, the city of Casablanca experienced one of its greatest building booms. The white city, which aimed at becoming one of the most modern and important city of Morocco, was grabbed by a fever of outgrowth and speculation. After 1930, the city experienced a spectacular economic expansion, and an important number of financial markets, banking centers, shipping, and airway agencies established, randomly, along the new avenues of the City.

In January 1943, two months after the landing of the US navy in Casablanca, a secret meeting called “Casablanca” was held in hotel Miramar, in the residential neighborhood of Anfa, between Delano Roosevelt, president of the U.S.A, the late Majesty the Sultan, Mohammed Ben Youssef, King of Morocco, accompanied by his son, HRH the prince, Moulay El Hassan, actual king of Morocco, Winston Churchill, prime minister of England, and Stalin, the president of the Soviet Union. Harry Hopkins, US secretary of the foreign office, the US general Patton, the French generals De Gaulle, Giraud and Nogués, the military governor of the protectorate were among the meeting, on which the head of States asserted their will to carry on with the war against the Axle allied States (Germany, Japan, Italy) until their hegemony is terminated.

Casablanca assumed the weight of its urban population growth, held on the challenge of modernization and of economic progress. The development of City accelerated with the Korean War of 1950. The fear of a third world War had pushed many European companies and private businessmen to establish in Morocco, considered a haven of peace. The result was a further expansion of industry and of real estate in Casablanca. The United States built a huge military air base in Nouasser, enabling the dropping of the small airport of Casablanca-Cazes in Anfa, which was close to the center town, and the opening of Mohammed V airport.

But Casablanca, like any Moroccan village and city, has its own popular culture and religious tradition. The saints of Casablanca are many, and most of their shrines date back to the last century. The patron saint of the city is Sidi Boulioth (the lord of the lions), rivaled by the saint Sidi Abderrahman, whose shrine lies over a wild rock by the Ocean coast of Ain Diab, like the French Chateaubriand of the Grand-Bè.

 

The New Medina.


The fast development of Casablanca and the pressing need in manpower attracted people from all the country. Thousands of people from rural areas settled in the old medina, and on the outskirts of the city, in a disorderly and deplorable hygienic conditions. This resulted in the emerging of those undesirable zones called “shantytowns”. The building of the new medina or Habouss in 1923, had, as objective, the absorbing of these insalubrious zones. This quarter was built according to the Moorish architecture, respecting the local style and the habits of the population. The new medina was fit out with a mosque, a kisariat, gallery of shops with arches, and hammams. The quarter of Habous, located in the new medina, is characterized by its Arabo-Moorish architecture. Here the visitor would admire the beautiful parks and gardens of the Royal palace, and not far, the mosque of Moulay Youssef, built on trimmed stones. The Mahkama du Pacha (Pasha’s courthouse), now Prefecture of Habouss, is the other edifice which deserves all the attention of an observer. Started in 1948 and finished on 1952, this edifice displays the expression of the Moorish art. Its ceiling, made of framed carved ceder-wood, harmonizes with the chiseled stucco that combines with the polychrome mosaic and its rigid geometric designs and with the white marble columns, a combination that reflects of an embellishment outshining any imagination.

 

The Grand Mosque Hassan II

Close to the port, just by the road of the Corniche, the magnificent Hassan Mosque stands, between the earth and the Ocean, high in the sky, with its tall minaret of 220 meters of height. The Hassan I mosque was a real challenge to the imagination of a man, and now it reflects the glory, the grandeur and the genius of His Majesty, the king Hassan Ibn Mohammed Ibn Youssef. The Best craftsmen of the kingdom and from abroad bent over the finest and the noblest materials, to engrave on them the marvelous fruits of their imagination, both in shape and in decoration, making emerge, as by magic, a magnificent shining jewel of the Moorish Art. The extraordinary work took five years, and required more than thirty thousand men, including engineers and technicians, who worked, on shifts, day and night, twenty-four hours on the row. The structure absorbed around three hundred thousand cubic meters of concrete and forty thousand tons of steel. More than twenty five million tons of marble and granite were used to coat its 220,000 square meters. Around 30,000 meters of plaster was chiseled, and 40,000 meters of wood were sculptured. The entire edifice was designed on a gigantic scale and extends over 90,000 m2. Besides being a lieu of prayer, the mosque is a real treasure of the Islamic architecture and of the Arabo-Moorish art.

The prayer hall covers a surface of 20,000 m2, and is crowned with a sliding steel roof that weights 1,100 tons, coated with ceder-wood and tiles of aluminum. The interior is meticulously decorated centimeter by centimeter, with fine sculptures and paintings, with beautiful dazzling puzzles of mosaic, those polychrome tiles wisely trimmed and shaped into different geometric and floral motives, coating the walls, columns and basins of the mosque. The ceilings are like shaped crowns, made of the finest wood of mahogany, ebony, and ceder-wood, richly painted with intricate puzzled lines, and with floral, epigraphic and geometric patterns. Large 12 tons Italian crystal chandeliers, measuring 15 meters of length and 6 meters of diameter, hang from the richly decorated ceilings. The lofty minaret is crowned with a Jamour, a sort of a big arrow, weighting 3 tons, equipped with a laser beam mechanism, conceived to radiate a lazer beam towards the East. The basement was arranged in large rooms for ablution, equipped with 365 big marble fountains, shaped in the form of roses, through whose petals the water flows. The basement is equipped with hammams “ steam baths” for men and women apart, and of a Turkish bath with its pool, totaling a surface of 19,000 square meters. To resist the humidity, the walls of the basement were coated with the “Tadlakt”, a mixture of eggs, plaster of chalk, and black soap. The mosque could house a total of 100,000 worshipers, 40,000 indoors.


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