Morocco is full of architectural treasures beyond those most commonly sought out by tourists:
In Casablanca, one can still feel like an explorer. Often overlooked by tourists despite being Morocco’s most populous city, it is a place of surprises that rewards wandering—and even getting lost. Its leafy boulevards are lined with ornate colonial-era buildings, and its flea markets are filled with treasures plucked from old villas. “Casablanca was the most creative of all the cities of France’s empire,” notes eminent historian Jean-Louis Cohen, coauthor of the book Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures. “It’s laid out according to an imaginative plan, with beautiful parks and striking architecture, from late Art Nouveau and Art Deco to radically modern.”
And slowly, many of these once-neglected confections are being reclaimed and refurbished. The landmark 1934 Shell building, on the central boulevard Mohammed V, has been converted into the sleek Imperial Casablanca Hotel & Spa. Historic villas are being reborn as galleries and restaurants, and a restoration of the old medina has begun. Casamémoire, Morocco’s main preservation organization, which leads architectural tours, is spearheading efforts to have parts of Casablanca designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But Morocco’s economic capital is also very much of the present, with the future squarely in its sights. A $730 million overhaul of the old port, which also involves the creation of a 2.3-mile tourist path connecting many of the city’s major buildings, will be finished by 2020. Along the Corniche—the beach promenade—the 1993 Hassan II Mosque, designed by French architect Michel Pinseau, stands as a breathtaking beacon. Gleaming shopping centers and luxury condos are springing up everywhere, including on the site of the airport depicted in the film Casablanca. (Though the Bogart-Bergman classic was shot on Hollywood backlots, its noirish romance does linger in certain quarters here.) Given the coastal setting, the influx of glittering towers raises the question, Could this be a new Miami with a Moroccan twist?..[FULL STORY]