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Modern Marvels of Casablanca: When one thinks of Morocco, the iconic city of Casablanca often comes to mind. With its blend of contemporary architecture and traditional Moroccan design, Casablanca presents a study in contrasts. While much of the city was built in the 20th century under French colonial rule, its buildings incorporate the cultural influences of both Western and Moroccan styles. In this post, we’ll explore some of Casablanca’s most impressive modern architectural marvels and understand what makes their designs unique.
Modern Marvels of Casablanca: Mohammed V Mausoleum
One of Casablanca’s most recognizable landmarks is the white-domed Mohammed V Mausoleum on the city’s western outskirts. Built in 1974, the mausoleum holds the remains of Mohammed V, the king who led Morocco to independence from France in 1956. Its design blends French architecture with traditional Moroccan elements.
The building is constructed from carefully cut local limestone and granite and topped with a large dome covered in green and white zellige tiles in traditional Moroccan fashion. What’s immediately striking is the dome’s size – it measures 27 meters in diameter, making it one of the largest traditionally tiled domes in the world. Surrounding the dome are four minarets that soar to 52 meters in height.
Entering the mausoleum, one is struck by the beautiful interplay of light and shadow across the naturally lit interior. A meditative serenity is enhanced by verses from the Quran that run in repetitive bands around the walls. At the center lies the simple yet dignified octagonal tomb chamber housing the sarcophagi of Mohammed V and his son, Hassan II. Their burial mounds are covered in green brocade and on a raised platform, with space left for future Moroccan rulers.
While embracing uniquely Moroccan motifs like geometric zellige tiles and calligraphy, the architects also drew inspiration from prominent Western mausoleums like Les Invalides in Paris, blending influences seamlessly. The result is a masterful work of modern Islamic architecture that has become a monument to Moroccan independence and a place of quiet contemplation.
Modern Marvels of Casablanca: Habous Quarter
Another highlight of Casablanca’s unique architectural heritage is the Habous Quarter, built in the early 20th century under the French Protectorate. One finds beautiful examples of traditional Moroccan courtyard houses, called riads, set amongst winding alleyways.
The Habous Quarter is unique because its structures were built utilizing a particular type of architecture designated “habous,” meaning communal endowment in Arabic. During the French colonial period, this neighborhood was explicitly designated as communal religious land providing housing and social services. The architecture and layout reflect this history.
Walking through the narrow alleys gives the feeling of stepping back in time. Riads of warm yellow stone are fronted by elaborately carved cedar wood doors and surrounded by interior courtyards with decorative fountains and foliage. Ornate stucco detailing decorates arched windows and balcony railings throughout the quarters. It’s easy to imagine merchants and their families living peacefully within these beautifully designed homes not so long ago.
While the rest of Casablanca modernized rapidly throughout the 20th century, the Habous Quarter retained much of its original medieval charm. Today, it remains a protected heritage site and provides a welcoming oasis from the bustle of the nearby city streets. Wandering leisurely through its lanes creates a pleasant escape and cultural experience, transporting visitors directly to Morocco’s rich architectural past.
Modern Marvels of Casablanca: Anfa Hotel
Visiting Casablanca’s lavish Anfa Hotel is a must for anyone interested in Art Deco design. Built-in 1951, the oceanfront hotel exhibits an exquisite fusion of French Art Deco and Moroccan decorative arts. Its striking ocean views, graceful archways, beautiful tilework, and lush gardens have welcomed dignitaries and celebrities for over half a century.
Approaching the hotel, one’s eye is immediately drawn to its dramatic arched entryway crowned with a bold saw-tooth parapet. A grand two-story arched hallway leads to a central courtyard bursting with foliage and a decorative fountain. Elaborately patterned zellige tilework lines the lower walls, while stucco cornices and arched windows display delicately sculpted plaster details above. Bright citrus and teal accent colors add vivacious pops against whitewashed walls.
Moving through the hotel, spaces like the bar and ballroom are where the true splendor of Art Deco shines. Geometric patterns and exotic motifs adorn glossy terrazzo floors, intricate parquetry wood ceilings, and etched glass partitions. Murals depicting Casablanca’s history bring additional dramatic flair. Outdoors and manicured gardens provide tranquil spots to admire the perpetually active oceanscape.
Blending high modern luxury with local ornamental craft, the Anfa Hotel is a prime example of how European artistic movements seamlessly integrated with Moroccan design traditions during the colonial period. Today, it continues delighting guests with its history, architecture, and stunning coastal views. A visit directly transports one to Casablanca’s glamorous early 20th-century heyday.
Modern Marvels of Casablanca: Casablanca Twin Center
In contrast to the colonial era buildings of Casablanca’s past, the city’s skyline today is dominated by striking modern high-rises. A prime example is the iconic Casablanca Twin Center complex, completed in 1997. Comprised of two sharply angled 53-story towers along the shoreline corniche, it remains one of Africa’s tallest buildings.
Approaching the Twins, their narrowing forms almost pierce the cloudy sky. Glittering blue and gold glass cladding draws the eye up the dramatically tapered towers. A spacious public plaza and fountain stand between the two, drawing people to relax and admire the coastal views.
Inside, luxury amenities include Casablanca’s only revolving rooftop restaurant offering panoramic 360-degree city perspectives. Office spaces are state-of-the-art, and top-floor penthouses boast breathtaking living spaces and private terraces. Sleek modern interiors contrast dramatically with the ornate historical buildings nearby yet are no less impressive.
The Twin Center towers undeniably alter Casablanca’s city horizon. But their design is not without cultural reference – angled edges nod to traditional Moroccan architecture’s sloping roofs, while fountains reference historic riads’ central courtyards. Their completion marked Morocco’s embrace of new technologies yet respecting history and local precedent. Today, they are proud symbols of Casablanca’s evolution into a vibrant modern metropolis.
Trading Floor of the Casablanca Stock Exchange
No exploration of Casablanca’s modern architecture would be complete without visiting the city’s stock exchange, known locally as the Bourse de Casablanca. Opened in 1929, its striking glass-enclosed trading floor remains remarkably preserved, listed as a historical monument for its unique architecture and role as the economic heart of Morocco.
Stepping into the trading room, one experiences an immediate transport back to the early 20th century. A lofty double-height roof of arched exposed concrete beams towers overhead, letting in ample natural light through towering windows. Below, tiered balconies wrap around three sides of the elegant central space, where traders initially communicated orders by hand signals before electronic trading took over.
Polished terrazzo floors in geometric patterns flow throughout, accented by brass details, and Art Deco flourishes. Stained glass skylights illuminate coffered and vaulted ceilings with vibrantly colored geometric patterns. Sweeping arched façades face three directions for airflow yet command attention with bold forms and precision-cut stonework.
Preserved today as a museum, the Casablanca trading hall remains a remarkable time capsule and an exquisite example of early 20th-century modernist architecture. Its intact historical ambiance, grandeur of scale, and fine ornamental details have endured to continue impressing generations of visitors with the significance of Morocco’s financial institutions to this day.
As this post has explored, Casablanca features a rich architectural heritage encompassing influences from its colonial European past and enduring Moroccan cultural traditions. Whether experiencing ancient medinas, ornamented riad homes, striking Art Deco masterpieces, or soaring modern skyscrapers, the city’s diverse structures invite discovery and reflection on its varied history and evolving identity.
Casablanca’s most significant architectural gems offer much more than beautiful aesthetics – each tells a vital story connecting to pivotal moments that shaped Morocco’s trajectory. From independent monuments to economic powerhouses, their designs merge influences seamlessly while retaining local character. Together, they help sustain an appreciation of Moroccan history, culture, and craftsmanship, inspiring new works for future generations. Casablanca’s architectural wonders thus remain sources of national resilience and pride, modern marvels well worth exploring.
Q: What architectural style influenced the designs of Casablanca’s buildings during the colonial period?
A: French architecture had a strong influence during the colonial period of the early-to-mid 20th century when much of modern Casablanca was developed. Buildings from this era, like the Anfa Hotel, exhibit Art Deco and Beaux-Arts styles that were popular in France then. However, architects blended French influences seamlessly with traditional Moroccan elements like ornate tilework, plaster detailing, and central courtyards.
Q: How does traditional Moroccan architecture still influence modern Casablanca buildings today?
A: Even contemporary high-rises in Casablanca reference elements of Moroccan architectural tradition. The angled forms of the Casablanca Twin Center tower nod to the sloping roofs seen in historic riads and houses. Water features like fountains in public spaces also recall the central courtyards, which are crucial in traditional Moroccan design. Throughout history, inspiration has also been taken from materials, geometric patterns, and ornamentation standards across Moroccan architecture.
Q: What role does the Mohammed V Mausoleum play in Casablanca and Moroccan national identity?
A: As the final resting place of the beloved King Mohammed V, who led Morocco to independence, the mausoleum has become a significant landmark and monument celebrating Moroccan self-determination. Its dome and minarets accentuate Casablanca’s skyline as a symbol of Islam and national heritage. It receives many visitors paying homage to the first post-independence ruler and affirming the continuity of Morocco’s independent monarchy today.
Q: How was the Habous Quarter designed differently than other parts of Casablanca?
A: The Habous Quarter was uniquely zoned as communal religious housing or “habous” land during the colonial period. This allowed it to retain its maze-like medieval layout within high stone walls sheltered from development elsewhere in the growing city. The compact maze of narrow alleyways and riad courtyards differed significantly from the grid plans popular for new sections of Casablanca.
Q: What amenities does the Anfa Hotel offer visitors today?
A: Renowned for its elegant Art Deco architecture and oceanfront position, the Anfa Hotel continues welcoming guests in high style. Visitors today can enjoy ocean views from the beach, lush gardens, a top-floor revolving restaurant, spa, and ornately decorated rooms all set amid landscaped grounds. The hotel’s historic charm and modern comforts remain an iconic luxury address capturing Casablanca’s glamorous past.
Q: What architectural details are unique to the Casablanca Stock Exchange building?
A: Some highlights include the lofty exposed concrete beams illuminating the trading floor, tiered balconies wrapping three sides, polished geometric terrazzo floors, brass ornamentation, stained glass skylights with vibrant patterns, arched entrances, and precision-cut stone masonry. These elements, combined with its spacious double-height volume and wealth of natural light, create an intact example of early 20th-century neoclassical modernism.
In conclusion, Casablanca presents a rich living archive spanning centuries of architectural influence and development. Whether ancient medinas persevering through the old city’s heart or ambitious skyscrapers reshaping its skyline, each new generation has left an impact through innovative designs. Traditional and contemporary structures draw on a shared well of Moroccan cultural heritage and absorption of outside trends.
Most importantly, Casablanca’s architectural diversity reflects the city’s ability to preserve local tradition while steadily embracing change. Its monuments connect to pivotal national milestones, whereas landmark buildings like grand hotels sustain ephemeral qualities of past luxury. Casablanca’s varied architectural treasures testify to an ever-evolving, deeply rooted identity – celebrating progress yet equally honoring enduring Moroccan craftsmanship, aesthetics, and local community roots. Their longevity ensures ongoing appreciation of the city’s contours of innovation and resilience for years.