Casablanca Introduction Walking Tour, Casablanca

Casablanca Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Casablanca

Leo Africanus, an Andalusi diplomat and travel writer of the 16th century, declared the Moroccan city of Casablanca to be the site of the ancient Berber city of Anfa, founded in 744 AD. Anfa was a city of the Berber kingdom of Barghawata. The independence of the kingdom ended in 1068 when it was conquered by the Arab Almoravids.

The Almoravid dynasty in turn was displaced by the Berber Merinids in the 13th century. The Merinids gave way to the Wattasid dynasty in 1465. By 1468 Anfa had become a harborage for pirates. In 1468 the Portuguese cleaned house by destroying the town. They fortified the ruins in 1515. They called the town that grew back, "Casa Branca."

The name means "White House." In Spanish it is "Casablanca." The Arabic name was "ad-Dar al-Baida", "The White House." Europeans left after the earthquake of 1755.

Sultan Mohammed ben Abdullah, who ruled in Morocco from 1756 until his death in 1790, rebuilt the town as ad-Dar al-Baida. In the 19th century Casablanca grew and prospered and it once again attracted Europe. The French invaded in 1906.

Under General Hubert Lyautey the French started to build. First was the clocktower of the Souk Kebir Square, renamed Square of the Clock. Henri Prost, Lyautey's architect, designed a European Ville Nouvelle outside the walls of the ancient medina.

In the Ville Nouvelle Mohammed V square and United Nations square are the commercial and administration centers of the city. South of the square is the park of the Arab League gardens and the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and the Church of Buenaventura. Of course Casablanca is a city of mosques, old and modern.

The massive Hassan II mosque overlooking the ocean should not be missed. The clock tower and the Medina gate, the Royal Palace, the markets, the Sqala walls, the museums and believe it or not, Rick's Cafe, offer a wealth of experiences. Visitors to Casablanca will need more than a few days to finish the feast. Take this walk to get started and enjoy.
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Casablanca Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Casablanca Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Morocco » Casablanca (See other walking tours in Casablanca)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: EmmaS
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • United Nations Square
  • Casablanca Cathedral
  • Parc de la Ligue Arabe (Arab League Park)
  • Place Mohammed V (Mohammed V Square)
  • Notre Dame de Lourdes Cathedral (Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral)
  • Royal Palace
  • Mahkamat al-Pasha Building
  • Habous Souq (New Town Market)
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United Nations Square

1) United Nations Square

Central to its history of modern Casablanca is United Nations Square. It was once simply the Souq Kbir, a market square. Of the European powers, France, in particular, liked Casablanca very much and in 1908 France came to call.

The French commander, Charles Marechal Joseph Dessigny, said hello with an artillery barrage and an invasion. This was a tad rude, but now France had arrived in Morocco. To drive home the point, Dessigny ordered a clock tower built in what ultimately was to become United Nations Square.

The old Souq Kbir immediately was renamed "Square of the Clock." The name soon changed again to the more assertive, "Square of France." This gave everyone assurance of permanence. A planing group led by General Hubert Lyautey and architect Henri Prost soon gave the square and the town a thorough re-do.

At the south end of the square, Hippolyte Delaporte and August Perret erected their Magazins Paris-Moroc in 1914. Hubert Lyautey opened the new State Bank of Morocco on the northeastern side of the Square. The Bank is currently named Bank al-Maghrib. The neo-Moorish Hotel Exchelsior went up in 1916.

The clock tower was replaced by a copy tower in 1993. Several buildings on the square were demolished to make way for the Avenue of the Royal Armed Forces created by planner Michel Ecochard. Architect Jean-Francois Zevaco designed Kora Ardia, a remodeling of the square including a geodesic dome.
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Casablanca Cathedral

2) Casablanca Cathedral (must see)

As long as the French ran the show in Morocco, a Catholic cathedral in Casablanca was not inconceivable. The cathedral was not officially a cathedral anyway. It was never the seat of a bishop. Although it certainly was big enough. So, it was officially a church, properly known as the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

After independence in Morocco, the Cathedral ceased to be a church. It was converted to use as a school and then as a cultural center. It is a tourist attraction not dedicated to any particular use. But it is huge. It has been described as "breathtaking."

The style is Art Deco with neo-Gothic and Moorish touches, especially in the two great bell towers flanking the entrance. Architect Paul Tournon started his project in 1930. Money was in short supply, so he built section by section from the altar out. He planned on ten bays, or sections. He completed three. The full cathedral was finished in 1952.

The Church of the sacred Heart has five naves separated by columns. This is novel. Most European cathedrals have three naves. This was reminiscent of early Christian architecture in Africa. It was the intention of Tournon that the cathedral should tower over all the mosques.

Without the religious function, the vast empty cathedral seems anachronous. The Cathedral can be found by the Arab League Park, the biggest park in the city.
3
Parc de la Ligue Arabe (Arab League Park)

3) Parc de la Ligue Arabe (Arab League Park)

Arab League Park is near the city center, west of Hassan II Boulevard, east of Roudani Boulevard and just south of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Casablanca Cathedral). The park is the largest park in town, covering 30 acres of land. In 1913, French architect Albert Laprade was commissioned to redesign the central city park.

The park was redone under the general supervision of Henri Prost. The name selected for the park was Lyautey Park, in honor of the Resident General of Morocco. Some arches from the old Portuguese prison, the Prison of Anfa, were moved by order of Lyautey to the park to provide support for a pergola.

The park is a huge green oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Palm trees run north and south the length of the park. It has recently emerged from an extensive reconstruction that has lasted almost two years. It has a large pond featuring water lilies and many exotic plants.

By the intersection of Moulay Youssef Avenue and Hassan II Avenue by the Arab League Square are more than a few cafes with terraces where one can rest after exploring the Park.
4
Place Mohammed V (Mohammed V Square)

4) Place Mohammed V (Mohammed V Square) (must see)

Mohammed V Square in Casablanca is popularly referred to as "Pigeons' Square." It seems literally carpeted with pigeons. They never go away. Are they waiting for something?

The square is named for Mohammed V, celebrated former King of Morocco. It has had other names: Main Square, Square of France, Square of Victory, Administrative Square and Marshal Lyautey Square. The square is just south of the the old city, in an area once occupied by the barracks of French Colonial Troops.

The plan to build a square was formed by Henri Prost and Joseph Marrast in 1916. It was destined to be part of the new "European City." Hubert Lyautey, the Resident General, was dreaming of Place Stanislaus in his native city of Nancy, France. He wanted the Mohammed V Square to be like that.

New buildings went up around the square in the style of Moorish Revival so liked by architect Henri Proust. On the sides are: the Court House built in 1923; the Military Circle built in 1925; the Bank Al-Maghrib built in 1937; the Central Post Office built in 1920; the Wilaya Building built in 1937; and the French Consulate-General built in 1922.

The Grand Theatre of Casablanca by Christian de Portzamparc was built in 2020 and the large circular fountain, the "Pigeons' Fountain", was repositioned as the square was renovated and repaved.
5
Notre Dame de Lourdes Cathedral (Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral)

5) Notre Dame de Lourdes Cathedral (Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral)

Modernist, near brutalist slabs of soaring concrete surmounted by a tiny crucifix proclaim Our Lady of Lourdes to a congregation of Catholics. Certainly no other church or former church looks like it, a foreboding, massive household radiator. But go inside and be dazzled by the towering stained glass windows of Gabriel Loire.

Here is more than eight thousand square feet of masterpiece hidden in a plain box. The cathedral is located just north of the Habous Quarter (the New Medina), near the Royal Palace and the mosques of Mohammed V and Moulay Youssef. The windows are cut on a red and blue background like a fine Moroccan carpet. They tell the story of the Virgin Mary.

The interior space is vast, open and airy. Beams of dazzling colored light splash against the opposite side walls. In the yard of the church is a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes where the schoolgirl Bernadette had her visions and revelations of the Virgin Mary.
6
Royal Palace

6) Royal Palace

Kings and presidents often promise things and do not deliver. The Royal Palace of Casablanca is one of the official royal palaces in Morocco. With the Casablanca palace one may look but not enter. Unless, of course the curious tourist is himself or herself an important invited personage, then it's different. Oh, it's good to be the king.

The Royal Palace is watched over by uniformed palace guards. There are no tours. Beyond the tiled and carved entrance gates of the facade are elegant waterworks, fountains and groves of fruit tress. In front of the Palace is a vast open square with fountains. It's a convenient place to stop and admire the royal exteriors.

The King sometimes stops by the palace when he's in town, but of course he has other digs. This one is much like the Alhambra in Spain. It has all the usual courtyards, gardens, fountains, flowers, trees, galleries, stucco, whatever. No need to see inside. Perhaps with a tour? One wonders. Oh, yes. No tours inside.
7
Mahkamat al-Pasha Building

7) Mahkamat al-Pasha Building (must see)

Mahkamat al-Pasha in Arabic means, "the Pasha's Courthouse." It was built in the early years of World War II, specifically 1941-1942. Since it was wartime, modern building materials were scarfed up by the French government. The courthouse was put together using traditional methods and materials.

The Pasha of Casablanca at the time was Al-Tayyib Al-Moqri, number two son of Grand Vizier Muhammed al-Muqri. The second son desired a courthouse to be built in the Habous, a neighborhood of the city traditionally dedicated to charitable and cultural interests. The building was to be a complex serving as residence, courthouse and jail.

The decision to build was made in January 1930. The design was by architect Auguste Cadet. Cadet was deeply involved in the planning and building of Casablanca. Like most other of Cadet's projects in the city, the complex shows typical Moorish-Andalusian architectural elements: ZeleeJ tiles, stucco, carved cedar and green tile roofing.
8
Habous Souq (New Town Market)

8) Habous Souq (New Town Market)

The Habous Souk, or New Town Market, located on the Boulevard Victor Hugo in Casablanca. The area is also known as the New Town which is cleaner, newer and more enticing than the old town. The market is open Monday through Friday from 12:00 am to 11:59 pm. Tours should be booked ahead of time.

The New Town was put together by the French colonizers. It was intended to be a modern, organized neighborhood, cleaner, but a bit French. The New Town Market sells all manner of goods. It has a carpet auction, friendly shops flaunting traditional clothing, shoes, slippers, hand made jewelry. There are book stores and open air cafes, restaurants and bakeries.

The atmosphere of the area is more relaxed, much less pushy than the old town. Deals can still be found and there's always time for tea. Go east on Victor Hugo Boulevard past Mahkamat el-Pasha. Enter through the archway by the Cafe Imperial and voila! The Habous Souk.

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles

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