July 16, 2024

Voyage into Spectacular Travels

Unveiling Authentic Journeys

Tourists walk the Heritage Night tours in Casablanca under the Moroccan moonlight

4 min read

For architecture fans, Casablanca in Morocco offers a visual feast of Moorish tiles, ancient minarets and French colonial facades with Art Deco touches, but much of it still faces dereliction or is falling apart.

To highlight the rich heritage of the Moroccan economic capital and encourage its preservation, guided walking tours have taken thousands of people on urban explorations.

“(Normally) the pace of life in Casablanca is so hectic that we don’t take the time to appreciate (the landmarks),” said Mehdi Ksikes, 51, a company manager joining one of the Heritage Nights tours.

Ksikes said on a tour during the recent Muslim holy month of Ramadan that he was seeing the city of his birth with new eyes.

“I live here, but that doesn’t stop me from discovering things about my city.”

The visitors gazed intently at a facade in central Casablanca as Leila, a volunteer guide with heritage association Casamemoire, pointed out details most of them had missed.

Casablanca’s architectural heritage is not limited to its 18th-century walled city, but also includes structures from its urban expansion during the French colonial period from 1912 to 1956.

From the early 20th century, European architects “worked to adapt progressive urban visions to Moroccan particularities”, said architect Karim Rouissi, who heads Casamemoire.

They brought the city to “the avant-garde of exploring 20th-century architectural and urban theories”.

Architects drew inspiration from different styles, such as “colonial architecture in Algeria and Tunisia” and “new Moroccan architecture”, a fusion of classic European architecture and elements of Moroccan craftsmanship, Rouissi said.

Casamemoire was founded in 1995 with the aim of promoting the city’s “unique” heritage and preserving it, after the demolition of several historic buildings.

Many of Casablanca’s historical buildings, such as the Wilaya (province) hall, the court of first instance, the central bank building, and others, are in the old administrative district in the city centre.

But traffic and noise there “makes us not usually think about wandering around here”, said Bouthaina, a tour participant snapping pictures inside a building open to visitors for the night tours.

“I can now see the city from a different perspective with influences of European architecture mixing with Moroccan techniques,” said Bouthaina, who settled in Casablanca because of her work.

The Wilaya hall is an example of this blend, inspired by designs from Siena municipal palace in Italy, with balconies overlooking the exterior – an uncommon feature in traditional Moroccan architecture.

Inside the building, a small garden sits in the middle of a spacious patio, allowing for natural ventilation, its columns and floors coated with hand-shaped glazed Zellige tiles.

At the central bank building, tour guide Leila pointed to polished stones clinging to the outside windows of the upper floor.

She noted the influence of the minarets of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh and its twin, the Giralda Mosque in Seville which was built during the 12th century Almohad era, and later converted to a cathedral.

The bank building also bears Art Deco features, with a beehive-like glass roof inside and a wide gate resembling the door of a safe.

While some of Casablanca’s architectural gems are well-preserved, others have fallen into disrepair or have been demolished, sparking public outrage.

A total of 483 buildings in the city have been listed as national heritage, and 100 others are expected to be added soon, according to culture ministry official Hassan Zohal.

The owners of national heritage buildings are required to preserve the original architecture of the facades when carrying out renovations or other work.

During the Heritage Night tours in Casablanca, participants get to check out some of the city’s top architectural wonders, like the Hotel Excelsior.During the Heritage Night tours in Casablanca, participants get to check out some of the city’s top architectural wonders, like the Hotel Excelsior.Wearing a yellow T-shirt with the slogan “Volunteer For My Heritage” on the back, Yacine Benzriouil, a Casamemoire volunteer, said that despite official efforts, some buildings remain abandoned or closed.

“The fight today is to show the value of this heritage,” said Benzriouil.

“We need to think about how to keep these buildings alive before they are doomed to disappear.”

Benzriouil is one of almost 200 volunteer guides leading the “heritage nights”.

Near the end of the visit in the administrative district, participants joined Benzriouil’s group in Mohammed VI Boulevard, where buildings blend Moorish tilework and arches with Art Nouveau.

Nature or mythological figures are showcased on the buildings’ ornate facades.

During the walk, Benzriouil pointed to a statue of the head of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, sitting atop a building facing one of Casablanca’s historic bars.

Further down the boulevard, the Lincoln Hotel is undergoing reconstruction, restoring its original 1917 facade after decades of dereliction.

“The conservation battle is half won,” he said. – AFP


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