Casablanca may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco (and its largest city), but it is one of the less endearing of the country's sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may be tempted to find the first train out to nearby Rabat. The awe-inspiring Hassan II Mosque and happening nightlife, however, are worth at least a day of your Moroccan itinerary.
The modern city of Casablanca was founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th Century BC and was subsequently used by the Phoenicians, Romans, and the Merenids as a strategic port called Anfa. The Portuguese destroyed it and rebuilt it under the name Casa Branca, only to abandon it after an earthquake in 1755. The Moroccan sultan rebuilt the city as Daru l-Badya and it was given its current name of Casablanca by Spanish traders who established trading bases there. The French occupied the city in 1907, establishing it as a protectorate in 1912 and starting construction of the ville nouvelle, however it gained independence with the rest of the country in 1956.
Casablanca is now Morocco's largest city with a population of almost 4 million and also boasts the world's largest artificial port but no ferry service of any kind . Casablanca is also the most liberal and progressive of Morocco's cities. Young men flirt brazenly with scantily-clad women, designer labels are the norm in the chic, beachfront neighbourhood of 'Ain Diab and many young Moroccans speak to each other exclusively in French.
But not everyone is living the Casablancan dream. Tens of thousands of rural Moroccans who fled the drought-ravaged interior to find work in the city are struggling under high unemployment rates and expensive housing. The poverty, prevalent in slums on the city's outskirts, has led to high rates of crime, drug use and prostitution.