Morocco. Casablanca. The very names evoke the essence of exotica. Maybe it is the dark aura of Rick's Cafe from the movie, with the sweeping lighthouse beam and the dark menace of the Gestapo. Maybe it is the old Pepe LePew line of "Come with me to the casbah!" Or maybe it is just the Vietnam era reverberating through "Marrakech Express". For whatever reason, the mere saying of "we are leaving Paris and will be in Casablanca in 3 hours" just reeks of adventure and secret places. The reality, at least for Casablanca, is somewhat different, for this is no ancient city with a many-alleyed medina. It is a large city of some 4 million inhabitants, or about 5 million in the greater metropolitan area, making it the largest city not only in Morocco but the largest in the Maghreb, a loosely defined region but essentially all of northern Africa west of Egypt. (Maghreb is the larger region; Al-Maghreb is specifically Morocco.) People from this region were called Moors, and thus Moorish Spain was sometimes included the region. The majority populations are Arabic and Berber, but apparently there is no clear idea of the percentages. Berbers are an ancient ethnic group
Morocco 2015 008 Hassan II Mosque Casablanca Morocco 051715
Top of intricately decorated minaret. Note minaret is square as is true throughout Morocco, rather than the round minarets of the countries that fell under the Ottoman Empire
with language ties, but racially diverse.
Morocco is mostly Sunni Muslim now, but in the past included much larger numbers of Sephardic and Berber Jews, and small Christian populations. Although Arabic and Muslim, it was never captured by the Ottoman Empire. Morocco does not seem quite as secular as Turkey, where women wearing the hijab were somewhat uncommon. Here they are common, but still many, particularly among the younger women, are not covered. Morocco has been generally tolerant of non-Muslims in the country. Although there have been instances and eras of persecution of Jews, for instance, they currently are equal to Muslims under the law, and one of the highest advisors of the King is Jewish. At one point, there were some 250,000-350,000 Jews in the country, with a history in the country going back nearly 2500 years, but after the state of Israel was formed many left for Israel and only about 2500 remain in Morocco today. DNA studies suggest that there was not widespread intermingling with ethnic Berbers who inhabited the area when the earliest Jews arrived.
The number of Christians in Morocco is larger, probably some 350,000, but most are foreigners and expats. Although all
religions are guaranteed religious rights in Morocco, conversion to any religion other than Islam is forbidden. Christian proselytizing in 2010 led to a crackdown and expulsion of some missionaries etc.
There are not a lot of sights to see in Casablanca, but on our first day we did stop to see the outside of the Hassan II Mosque (more in next segment) and then to stroll along the Corniche, an oceanside walkway lined on both sides by shops and restaurants and lodging enterprises. Our evening finished with dinner at Rick's Cafe, not even minimally related to the movie except through name, but a good meal nonetheless.
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