The old part of Casablanca, within a set of city walls and known as the Medina, is surprisingly easy to miss. You could wander around the city centre for a few hours, then take a taxi out to the big mosque and the seaside, and not realise that the medina exists. It certainly doesn't compare to other medinas in places like Fes or Marrakesh, or even Rabat or Meknes. There are no real sights within the walls, nothing really that old or picturesque either, but it is a nice place to walk around, especially as there is very little hassle from touts or guides, aside from a few pushy sellers right inside the main gate.
My hotel owners told me to be careful in the medina, and I'd read that elsewhere too, but I can't really say it felt threatening at all, just a normal residential area, slightly rundown with one or two dodgy characters lurking in the shadows, but the main streets are busy with shoppers in the markets or children playing or men smoking in cafes. It's fairly easy to get lost, and I tried three times to find Jemaa ach Chleuh (the Berber Mosque), but somehow found myself at the other end of the medina every time. You can't really get too lost though, as the medina is only small, and you'll end up at the wall at some point.
What to see? Well, start with the clocktower entrance, not really a sight in itself but a good place to enter, easy to find just off Place des Nations Unies. The whole area around here is a street market, a few official shops but mostly immigrants from other parts of Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa selling their wares on the pavements. Entering the gate by the clocktower brings you to a square with several snack stalls, and you can take any of the streets here for a walk through the souqs. They're not terribly exciting, with a lot of touristy tat at the start (cruise ship passengers are brought here), which gives way to clothing and eventually food.
Aside from markets, try to find the Skala, a small fortress-type structure in the walls opposite the port, which has been restored and is now an expensive restaurant. Next door is the oldest mosque in the medina, where I was picked up by a "guide" from Laayoune, a city I'd already visited. He knew (or claimed to know) the medina fairly well, and adopted me, in the beginning just "to chat to a foreigner", but I was convinced I was going to be asked for money at the end of his little tour. But he did take me into the mosque (I forget the name, but it is right next to the Skala, so easy to find), normally forbidden in Morocco, and walked me around the medina as the sun was coming down. It was interesting to talk to him, and he showed me a few places I had missed, like the horsemeat market, but after about an hour, the conversation changed to be constantly about money and how poor he was and how rich i was and how hungry he was and how nice it would be if I would give him money to buy a meal for him and his fourteen children (he'd introduced himself as unmarried and alone in Casa, so something was a lie...). I sort of knew it was coming, and prepared to hand over some dirhams, but it did confirm yet again that meeting ordinary Moroccans is difficult as a tourist.
One final "sight" at the far end of the medina is Rick's Cafe, not really a cafe at all, but an upmarket bar aimed at tourists who come looking for the romantic Casablanca of the film. Some must be fooled into thinking it is authentic, but anyone with an ounce of film knowledge will know that the filming was all done in Hollywood and the bar was completely fictional!
I didn't get a chance to go to the Old Medina, but passed by it in a Petit Taxi enroute from Casa Voyageurs train station to the Hassan II Mosque.
If you're looking for postcards of Casablanca, other than the Hassan II Mosque, this is probably the next possible feature.
I'm meaning the old medina, not the new one. It was just closing as I arrived and not yet open the next morning as I was leaving.
So, I just had a quick look round. Make sure you have a good map if you're going in all the way.
It seemed friendly & comfortable when I was there.
You do need to venture in just a little bit just to get some idea of Moroccan life. Be prepared for dirt, squalor and poverty, but we need reminded of the way some have to live so that us northerners/westerners stay comfortable.
On my first visit (1973) I stayed with Moroccan friends in the medina, and that was fun!
I was very surprised when I saw low and unimposing city walls of large city of Casablanca. In all other cities I visited in Morocco the city walls dominated the image of the city. But there was interesting, tall clock tower there - close to focal point of Casablanca that is Place des Nations Unies (United Nations Square, former Place Mohammed V).
Walking around Casablanca we came across a wall with an arched entrance. Entering ,we found ourselves in the old medina with its suq of winding alleys . It was colourful- in spite of the rain. Houses were old and sometimes balconies overlooked the street.
Trying to find a way out meant passing shops selling almost anything, turning down narrow alleys, and getting lost. In a wider area carts selling fruit were found. Many of the buildings looked old and dilapidated, but there were others that were quite attractive .
The Old Medina is enclosed by stone walls in the old part of the city. It is small and offers a labyrinth of alleys. There are only two of gates out of the original four which allow you to gain entry – Bab el-Jedid and Bab Marrakech. Within the walls is a buzzing daily market selling spices and food, housewares and clothing as well as local services from barbers and dentists etc.
Sidi Belyoott is the Patron Saint of Casablanca. His name is Omar Ben Haroon and he died around 1165 AD. He was a blind holy man who the locals saw being befriended by a pride of barberry lions so he was nick named Abo Alloyooth (the man with the lions). After his death a mosque was built on his grave. This mosque was destroyed along with the city in the late 15th century by the Portuguese. The current building was built in 19th century and it has the graves of others too. The mosque has 2 court yards leading to a prayer hall where the grave is located inside.
This mosque is on the road between Hyatt Regency hotel and Casa Port train station. I would say it is 150 Meter from the station and 200 meter from the hotel. As you leave the train station walk pass the traffic light and you’ll see a police station on you left hand. Behind it you’ll see this white Mosque.
Today Casabanca is devided into 5 sections Sidi Belyoott is the biggest section of the city.
The souq in the Medina is most probably more expensive. I think during my visit, it was not high tourist season, and I could take my time doing shopping. Some typical Moroccan items on sale like tagines, preserved lemons and spices.
Although the walled Medina is the oldest part of the city, it does not really have that old feel to it. There are several entrances, but most easy to identify would be the entrance at the clock tower.
Inside the Medina, it is a hustle and bustle of activity. I have read that many tourists were harassed by “guides”, but luckily I experienced no problems – not even with taking photos.
The Medina (the Old City) is a must to visit. Fascinating shops, living history.
This is the real Casablanca. The shopkeepers and stallholders are trying to make money out of the tourists who visit of course, but it's also the local people going about their normal daily lives, buying their everyday food and other items.
Bab Marrakesh is a massive gate at the walls of the medina. It is located behind the Hyatt Hotel. Once you pass through the gate you’ll enter the old Medina. You’ll find all kinds of Souvenirs from silver to fossils. There is a big clothing market.
Beyond the market you wander in the narrow streets of the old medina. At night this place is dangerous and spooky but it should be ok during the day. In the medina there are plenty of cheap hotels if you are looking for a place. There plenty of interesting house including some belonging to a rabbi, others like old schools that are still functioning.
I did not know wither to put this under things to do or to put under restaurants!!
The Saqala is part of the wall of the old town. It has a view of the Harbor; It is a watch tower that comes with its cannons. It also has a nice restaurant. It is a pleasant place to eat and the food is good, the atmosphere is superb and the service is friendly. The prices are on the upper side but the quality and the quantity are good. The food variety is good and includes authentic Moroccan dishes.
There is a little gift shop and an art exhibit that will be on display every now and then by local artist.
This place is around one km away from the Casa port train station. Once you get out of the train station turn right at the travel light and continuo until you see the cannon, the banner and the near fort like structure. It is close to the Youth Hostel too.
One of my favourite places in Casablanca is a tiny mosque in the old medina - it's just so beautiful that it's worth going to the medina just for it. It's called Chleuh mosque and it has a perfectly white mynaret that looks as if it was made of lace, not stone.
Unfortunately the mosque cannot be visited if you are not a muslim, so I had to make do with a quick glimpse through the door. Inside it looked just as beautiful as outside. To get there, as you enter the medina, don't lose sight of the mynaret, and then zig-zag the little alleys until you get there. You will get there...
In the South eastern part of the city, at the back of the royal palace and of boulevard Victor Hugo, is the new Medina, which has maintained the name of area of the Habou. The French urbanists planned its construction starting from 1923 in order to integrate the new populations of rural origins who had been concentrated in the southern suburb of the city. With its little squares and little lanes with arcades, Medina represents a successful example of modern adaptation of the traditional characteristics of one medina.
A very little part of the old Mussulman city still exists: in fact it was destroyed by the earthquake in 1755, and in 1770 the sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah undertook its reconstruction. A long time ago, the Medina was surrounded with bastions which extended until the old souk el-Kebir. It is possible to find some traces around the place Mohammed V. In XIX century, in the Medina, they built houses (at present they have disappeared) in Arab-Mussulman style and in western stylevecchio souk el-Kebir.
I wandered around the Souk at 10am even though everyone told me that it wasn't safe, I would be mugged, ripped off and so on. I did the sensible things, went with empty pockets and kept my camera in my hand and stayed aware of my surroundings. The souk was full of normal people going about their daily business, buying fruit and veg and meat. The spice souk was the best part with those amazing piles of spices and all those smells. Don't be afraid and don't miss it. Many touts as you approach the Souk from the Hyatt side will try and convince you to take a tour and they will follow you. Tell them no and if they continue to bother you walk towards the police station right at the entrance in the big tower and they soon disappear. Enjoy this unique part of Casablanca.