If you haven’t noticed from my Instagram feed that is filling up these days with Casablanca images, or the article I wrote for The Independent about architectural conservation in the new city developed by the French, I am slightly intrigued by Casablanca. So I’m excited to be returning to the white city for the annual doors open event from 9 to 13 May as organized by Casamemoire, an association dedicated to safe-guarding the 20th century architecture in Morocco.
In a downtown core that could easily double as an open-air architectural museum, the event aims to create awareness of the city’s architectural heritage, a challenge as the 20th-century architecture is seen largely as something left behind from the French, Lahbib El Moumni, a young architect and member of Casamemoire, explained to me following a private tour of the administrative centre.
During the weekend event, Casamemoire invites the general public to visit buildings that may otherwise be closed to the general public. The boardroom, accessible via a sweeping staircase with enabled rose glass windowpanes of the Banque al Maghreb for example where Italian marquetry is used to create Amazigh shapes and a beehive style ceiling provides natural light, is one of the stops on the administrative centre tour as is the wiliya building where an art-deco entrance with steamliner finishings leads to an Arab-Andalusian style courtyard.
Another route takes the curious along Avenue Mohamed V where grand apartment blocks once housing the foreign population during the development of the nearby port and the city as an economic hub during the French protectorate era. Today local residents have moved in, but the cafes and shops tucked under the arcades recall a booming past.
Visit the new medina
Across town, the Habous neighbourhood, a sort of new medina, was built during the Protectorate era to accommodate the local population. And throughout the weekend visits of this neighbourhood are also organized. The crown jewel here is the Mahkama du Pacha where only the finest carved stucco and cedar wood along with the turquoise doors enhance the arches and the morning sunlight floods the central patio. But don’t miss a visit to the olive souk and one of the city’s finest bakeries.
Go further afield to be wowed!
Slightly off the beaten path, a visit to the Roche Noire neighbourhood provides an entirely different look in to Casablanca. It’s here where the independence movement began, a residential building called the bee hive accommodated the growing population and a Gothic church turned mosque stands proudly on a busy street. Be sure to grab the bus to Cité Cosumar, an entire medina-like city built to accommodate the employees of the nearby Cosumar sugar factory and their families. Step inside the main gate to wander along the little alleyways where a few families remain, the mosque is still active as is the community bread oven. As few people seemed to be residing here, I sensed though that the main gates are no longer closed between certain hours in the evening.