Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء, translit. ad-dār al-bayḍāʾ; local informal name: Kaẓa), located in the central-western part of Morocco bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is the largest city in Morocco. It is also the largest city in the Maghreb, as well as one of the largest and most important cities in Africa, both economically and demographically.
Casablanca is Morocco’s chief port and one of the largest financial centers on the continent. According to the 2014 population estimate, the city has a population of about 3.35 million in the urban area and over 6.8 million in the Casablanca-Settat region. Casablanca is considered the economic and business center of Morocco, although the national political capital is Rabat.
The leading Moroccan companies and international corporations doing business in the country have their headquarters and main industrial facilities in Casablanca. Recent industrial statistics show Casablanca retains its historical position as the main industrial zone of the country. The Port of Casablanca is one of the largest artificial ports in the world, and the second largest port of North Africa, after Tanger-Med 40 km (25 mi) east of Tangier. Casablanca also hosts the primary naval base for the Royal Moroccan Navy.
The original name of Casablanca was Anfa, in Berber language, by at least the seventh century BC. After the Portuguese took control of the city in the 15th century AD, they rebuilt it, changing the name to Casa Branca ([kazɐ’bɾɐ̃kɐ]). It derives from the Portuguese word combination meaning “White House” (branca “white”, casa “house”). The present name, which is the Spanish version (pronounced [kasaˈβlaŋka]), came when the Portuguese kingdom was integrated into personal union to the Spanish kingdom. During the French protectorate in Morocco, the name remained Casablanca (pronounced [kazablɑ̃ka]). In 1755 an earthquake destroyed most of the town. It was rebuilt by the Sultan who changed the name into the local Arabic which is Ad-dar Al Baidaa’, although Arabic also has its own version of Casablanca (كازابلانكا, Kāzāblānkā). The city is still nicknamed Casa by many locals and outsiders to the city. In many other cities with a different dialect, it is called Ad-dar Al-Bida, instead.
The area which is today Casablanca was founded and settled by Berbers by at least the seventh century BC. It was used as a port by the Phoenicians and later the Romans. In his book Description of Africa, Leo Africanus refers to ancient Casablanca as “Anfa”, a great city founded in the Berber kingdom of Barghawata in 744 AD. He believed Anfa was the most “prosperous city on the Atlantic Coast because of its fertile land.”Barghawata rose as an independent state around this time and continued until it was conquered by the Almoravids in 1068. Following the defeat of the Barghawata in the 12th century, Arab tribes of Hilal and Sulaym descent settled in the region, mixing with the local Berbers, which led to widespread Arabization. During the 14th century, under the Merinids, Anfa rose in importance as a port. The last of the Merinids was ousted by a popular revolt in 1465.
In the 19th century, the area’s population began to grow as it became a major supplier of wool to the booming textile industry in Britain and shipping traffic increased (the British, in return, began importing gunpowder tea, used in Morocco’s national drink, mint tea). By the 1860s, around 5,000 residents were there, and the population grew to around 10,000 by the late 1880s. Casablanca remained a modestly sized port, with a population reaching around 12,000 within a few years of the French conquest and arrival of French colonialists in the town, at first administrators within a sovereign sultanate, in 1906. By 1921, this rose to 110,000, largely through the development of shanty towns.
French rule and influence
In June 1907, the French attempted to build a light railway near the port and passing through a graveyard. As an act of resistance and protestation, the locals attacked the French, riots ensued, causing a few soldiers to be wounded and one general to be killed. In response, the French attacked by ship, bombarding the city from the coast, and landing troops inside the town, which caused severe damage to the town and 15,000 dead and wounded bodies. The French claimed that it was to restore order there. This effectively began the process of colonization, although French control of Casablanca was not formalised until 1910. Under the French rule, Muslim anti-Jewish riots occurred in 1908.
The famous 1942 film Casablanca (starring Humphrey Bogart) underlined the city’s colonial status at the time—depicting it as the scene of a power struggle between competing European powers. The film has a cosmopolitan cast of characters (American, French, German, Spaniard, Czech, Norwegian, Austrian, Bulgarian, Russian, and some other nationalities).
Europeans formed almost half the population. [During the 1940s and 1950s, Casablanca was a major centre of anti-French rioting. A bomb attack on 25 December 1953 (Christmas Day) caused 16 deaths.
World War II
Casablanca was an important strategic port during World War II and hosted the Casablanca Conference in 1943, in which Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the progress of the war. Casablanca was the site of a large American air base, which was the staging area for all American aircraft for the European Theater of Operations during World War II.
In October 1930, Casablanca hosted a Grand Prix, held at the new Anfa Racecourse.[ In 1958, the race was held at Ain-Diab circuit (see Moroccan Grand Prix). Morocco gained independence from France on 1955.[ In 1983, Casablanca hosted the Mediterranean Games.[ The city is now developing a tourism industry. Casablanca has become the economic and business capital of Morocco, while Rabat is the political capital.
In March 2000, more than 60 women’s groups organized demonstrations in Casablanca proposing reforms to the legal status of women in the country. About 40,000 women attended, calling for a ban on polygamy and the introduction of divorce law (divorce being a purely religious procedure at that time). Although the counter-demonstration attracted half a million participants, the movement for change started in 2000 was influential on King Mohammed VI, and he enacted a new mudawana, or family law, in early 2004, meeting some of the demands of women’s rights activists.
On 16 May 2003, 33 civilians were killed and more than 100 people were injured when Casablanca was hit by a multiple suicide bomb attack carried out by Moroccans and claimed by some to have been linked to al-Qaeda. Twelve suicide bombers struck five locations in the city.[
A string of suicide bombings struck the city in early 2007. A suspected militant blew himself up at a Casablanca internet café on 11 March 2007. On 10 April, three suicide bombers blew themselves up during a police raid of their safe house. Two days later, police set up barricades around the city and detained two more men who had escaped the raid. On 14 April, two brothers blew themselves up in downtown Casablanca, one near the American Consulate, and one a few blocks away near the American Language Center. Only one person was injured aside from the bombers, but the Consulate was closed for more than a month.
As calls for reform spread through the Arab world in 2011, Moroccans joined in, but concessions by the ruler led to acceptance. However, in December, thousands of people demonstrated in several parts of the city, especially the city center near la Fontaine, desiring more significant political reforms.
The commune of Casablanca recorded a population of 3,359,818 in the 2014 Moroccan census. About 98% live in urban areas. Around 25% of them are under 15 and 9% are over 60 years old. The population of the city is about 11% of the total population of Morocco. Grand Casablanca is also the largest urban area in the Maghreb. 99.9% of the population of Morocco are Arab and Berber Muslims. During the French protectorate in Morocco, European Christians formed almost half the population. Since independence in 1956, the European population has decreased substantially.
Judaism in Casablanca
A Sephardic Jewish community was in Anfa up to the destruction of the city, by the Portuguese in 1468. Jews were slow to return to the town, but by 1750, the Rabbi Elijah Synagogue was built as the first Jewish synagogue in Casablanca. It was destroyed along with much of the town in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Today, the Jewish cemetery of Casablanca is one of the major cemeteries of the city. The Moroccan Jewish Museum is a museum established in the city in 1997. It is the only museum devoted to Judaism in the Arab world (see also History of the Jews in Morocco).
The French period Ville Nouvelle (New Town) of Casablanca was designed by the French architect Henri Prost, and was a model of a new town at that time. The main streets radiate south and east from Place des Nations Unies, previously the main market of Anfa. Former administrative buildings and modern hotels populate the area. Their style is a combination of Hispano-Moorish and Art Deco.
Casablanca is home to the Hassan II Mosque, designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau. It is situated on a promontory on the Atlantic Ocean. The mosque has room for 25,000 worshippers inside, and a further 80,000 can be accommodated in the mosque’s courtyard. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 metres (690 feet). The mosque is also the largest in North Africa, and the third-largest in the world.
Work on the mosque started in 1980, and was intended to be completed for the 60th birthday of the former Moroccan king, Hassan II, in 1989. However, the building was not inaugurated until 1993. Authorities spent an estimated $800 million in the construction of the building.
The Parc de la Ligue Arabe (formally called Lyautey) is the city’s largest public park. On its edge is the Casablanca Cathedral (Cathédrale Sacré-Coeur). It is no longer in use for religious purposes, but it is open to visitors and a splendid example of Mauresque architecture. The Old Medina (the part of town antedating the French protectorate) attracts fewer tourists than the medinas of cities such as Fes and Marrakech. However, it has undergone some restoration in recent years. Included in this project have been the western walls of the medina, its skala, or bastion, and its colonial-period clock tower.
A popular site among locals is the small island Marabout de Sidi Abderrahmane. It is possible to walk across to the rocky island at low tide. This outcrop contains the tomb of Sidi Abderrhamane Thaalibi, a Sufi from Baghdad and the founder of Algiers. He is considered a saint in Morocco. Because of this, many Moroccans make informal pilgrimages to this site “to reflect on life and to seek religious enlightenment”. Some believe that the saint possessed magical powers, so his tomb still possesses these powers. People come and seek this magic to be cured. Non-Muslims may not enter the shrine.