History Of:

Todra Gorge


Casablanca History

Casablanca is situated on the Atlantic Coast, more or less halfway be­tween the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the barrier of the High Atlas Mountains to the south. It is the country's economic capital, and is the first Moroccan town seen by travelers on a direct transatlantic flight. At first glance, the scene is more or less familiar—modern airport, big build­ings, public transport, traffic police, businessmen with portable phones clamped to their ears ... on a smaller scale than in the U.S., but familiar sights all the same. This is an illusion. Casablanca is not a miniature and rather poor copy of an American city but a successful blend of Moroccan and Western civilizations, as the visitor will soon find out.

  The distant past: Leaving aside the prehistoric people who lived on the outskirts of the present city around one million years ago, Berber fisher­men were the first to inhabit Casablanca, installing themselves in the 10th century b.c. on a hill situated in the southern part of the town (the pres­ent Anfa district). The natural harbor here offered a convenient port of call for Phoenician traders going down the coast three centuries later. A Roman wreck from which were salvaged 169 silver coins shows that the Romans, too, appreciated this useful creek. The next news of Casablanca comes from the 7th century a.d., when history shows that a large Berber tribe, the Berghouata, settled in the area between the rivers Bou Regreg to the north and Oum er-Rbia to the south. For four centuries their in­dependent kingdom flourished, until it was defeated and destroyed by the Almoravids in 1068.

  An important trading center:  It was not until the 14th century, under the Merinids, that Anfa came to life again and began to look like a real Islamic town, complete with wall, mosque, medersa, and governor. Trade flourished, particularly with the Spanish, and local wheat, leather, and wool were exported from its excellent port. Leon the African, whose Description de l’Afrique was published in 1550, described the town as full of mosques, palaces, and shops, and its inhabitants as well-dressed and cul­tured.  However, pirate ships, also taking advantage of the harbor, in­stalled themselves there in the 15th century. Their raids around Lisbon resulted in the infuriated Portuguese sending a large fleet and attacking Anfa, whose occupants had all fled in terror, in 1468, and destroying it. Contrary to what is often written, there is nothing to indicate that the Portuguese returned and built fortifications in 1515 or in 1575, though they did carry out raids on the surrounding countryside. Nor was the town empty for 300 years, for little by little the inhabitants returned and resumed their commercial activity. In 1630, for instance, the Portuguese came and bought large quantities of wheat in Anfa, since there was a shortage in Portugal. Flemish and Portuguese ships are known to have regularly put in to Anfa to take on fresh water and sup­plies. Pirates returned to work, too, at the end of the 16th century. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, with its wide-ranging repercussions, destroyed the town again, and its Jewish population, merchants and their families, were among the first to leave. Reconstruction of the town started again in 1770, under the sultan Mohammed III. The sultan, to please a Spanish trading company, authorized its name of Dar el-Beida to be translated into the Spanish "Casa Blanca" (white house). By the middle of the 19th century, Casablanca had regained its place as an important business center, exporting local produce and im­porting, among other things, a newly-discovered delight—tea. European steamships were frequent visitors, and by the end of the 19th century trade had became thoroughly international, and Europeans flooded into the town. The population grew rapidly from 600 in 1830 to nearly 8,000 in 1868.

French occupation: In conformity with the Act of Algeciras in 1906 (in which the United States participated), the French started important port-improvement work. The first narrow-gauge railway line was built in 1907, provoking a prompt and angry response from the local population, who murdered a number of European workers, claiming that the line impinged on a Moslem cemetery (in fact, it only ran along the beach). The French Ambassador in Tangier, in favor of stronger action in Morocco, no less promptly sent a ship down to Casablanca. A small landing-party met with great resistance from the united local tribes, which had also seized the occa­sion to invade and loot the town, causing a great loss of life. The French, accompanied by a Spanish contingent, briefly bombarded the town and order was restored. When the French protectorate was established in 1912, the first Resident-General (General Lyautey) decided to make Casablanca the country's economic capital. New commercial and residential districts were built, leaving—as was Lyautey's habit—the old medina untouched. By 1920, Casablanca had become Morocco's principal port, and so far it has not been overtaken. New jetties in recent years have increased its capacity.

  During World War II, Casablanca was home to spies and intrigue of all kinds. Even if the film Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, was filmed in a Hollywood studio, it well reflected the feeling of the city. On November 8,1942, 35,000 U.S. troops landed in Morocco, half of them on beaches near Casablanca. After some sad but short (three days) fighting between the U.S. and French forces faithful to Vichy, General Patton established his military headquarters in Casablanca and the Allies started their successful march across North Africa, joined by Moroccan and French troops. General Eisenhower was the overall commander-in-chief. The Allied dead were buried in the Ben M'Sik cemetery. The coffins of the U.S. soldiers and sailors were later transferred to America, but there is still a U.S. War Memorial in the cemetery. The popular Moroccan singer, Houcine Slaoui, recorded well the local atmosphere after the arrival of the American troops with his song "Bye, bye! Chewing gum," [refrain: "All you hear is . . ." (in Arabic) "Okay, Okay, Corne on! Bye, bye!" (in English)] in which he sang that the Americans distributed chewing gum, sweets, cigars, and dollars, and that even the old Moroccan women put on make-up and drank rum with the Americans. In January 1943, the Anfa Conference saw President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and French Generals Giraud and de Gaulle meet in a hotel situated in the elegant Anfa district of Casablanca to plan the Sicily and Normandy landings. The President twice received the sultan of Morocco, Mohammed V, in his Anfa residence, and promised to help Morocco win back independence. Despite Morocco's hopes, independence failed to materialize after the war.

When, in 1953, the sultan was deposed and exiled to Madagascar, his peo­ple refused to recognize the French-appointed successor, Mohammed ben Arafa. Boycotting of French products, such as cigarettes, gave way to vio­lence—the explosion of a bomb in the central Casablanca market on Christmas Eve 1953 and another in the Mers Sultan area in July 1954 (killing a total of 24 French civilians) were but some of the many actions undertaken by Moroccan nationalists throughout the country. Finally, negotiations resulted in the return of Mohammed V in November 1955 and four months later the Protectorate came to an end.

  The modern town: Today, Casablanca is Morocco's biggest town, with a population not far from 3 million. Despite decentralization efforts, it still remains the country's industrial pole. As such, it attracts increasing num­bers of rural people in search of work and its population is ever-growing.  Nationals of many countries live and work in Morocco's most cosmopoli­tan of cities. Numerous congresses, seminars, and international meetings are held here, and the permanent grounds of the Foire (fairground) have year-round exhibitions and commercial fairs attracting exhibitors from many foreign countries.

Casablanca  |  Morocco History