Hectic schedule of our last day in Casablanca somehow helped reduce the tension of the last day of the Orientation trip – the last day to see more, learn more, get the souvenirs, take more pictures and do whatever we can to seize the day and make the impression of the overall trip as much as possible intense and everlasting.
And the day was undoubtedly an eventful one.
It started with the architectural tour with Aïcha el Beloui, an architect who is a part of the Casamémoire organisation, devoted to preservation of architectural heritage of Casa(blanca). The group was very eager to learn as much as possible about the city, whose vast space kept revealing traces of various cultural traditions of nations occupying and populating the area. The story of architecture was intertwined with the story of development of Casablanca, how it became one the leading cities and the largest of North Africa, now numbering around 3 million inhabitants and 3.6 million in the wider Casablanca region.
The first curiosity we learned was its name – “Casablanca”, as the world knows this city – which is obviously not an Arabic word. Aïcha explained that the name comes from “Casa Branca”, meaning “white house”, which was given by the Portuguese in 16th century, with a later Spanish adaptation into “Casa Blanca”, while remaining “Ad-Dar al-Bayda” for the Arabic speaking population.
But the history of this place starts much before the Portuguese. It was first inhabited by the Berbers, with the record of their presence from as early as the 7th century. The first name for the area was Anfa, still used for the historical centre, which designated a small kingdom formed in the Roman days. After being fought for by different dynasties between the 13th and the 15th century, it became an independent republic. However, the Portuguese came not long after, destroyed it and then used the ruins of Anfa to build a military fortress in 1515, while the town, Casa Branca, grew around it. For a long time the city did not prosper, until, in the 18th century, Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah decided to populate it and make it a centre of economy, bringing people from different places to live there and giving it the official name Casablanca. The city steadily grew in terms of its of population, but also its economy, achieving its progress in commerce in the days of the European crisis in the mid-19th century.
In 1907 the French started the process of colonisation of Morocco and officially proclaimed the protectorate in 1912. During the French rule, they started to build the famous Port, which is now considered as one of the biggest in the world. This was also the time when Casablanca received a studious plan for its architecture and urban planning. The French idea was that Casablanca becomes a modern European-like metropolis, where Europeans would occupy its centre, while local population was foreseen to live in the outskirts. It took more than 40 years for Morocco to regain its independence from France in 1956, but the traces of the colonial days are obviously still deeply rooted in the contemporary Moroccan life.
The architectural tour started in front of the Sacré-Cœur church, followed by the visit to the Parc de la Ligue Arabe, build by the French who hired a famous landscape architect to plan it in 1912. After visiting more than 30 architectural sights of Casablanca’s abundant cultural and historical heritage, the most intriguing, beside the Medina, the market, was the administrative square – Place Mohamed V (better known by the public as the “bird’s place” due to presence of great number of pigeons!) – around which many historical buildings are dispersed, such as the Palace of Justice or the French Consulate.
Even though architectural tour was fascinating, what conquered our attention happened in the middle of the Mohammed V square – upon the arrival to the site we were caught up in the midst of the demonstrations against the King, which are continuously being organised in Morocco as part of the North African protests wave. As we have been told, until now, the protests were always peaceful and this was the first time that the police used force to deal with the protesters, leaving dozens of them injured. Lars found a report on what we have witnessed and here it is: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/03/2011313212948314417.html.
The next meeting was somehow related to the architectural tour we made with Aïcha. We were introduced to the architectural project for a Grand Theatre on the square of Mohammed V. This project is driven by the CasArts Association. Its director, Myriam Hamamsi, is active in promoting performing art in Casablanca. She welcomed us in the municipal cultural centre where CasArts shares premises with other associations. Ms. Hamamsi initially listed the different aspects of the regular activities of CasArts: educational program and training of social workers, organisation of theatre festivals with Moroccan or international companies, and production of plays. Yet, her presentation mainly concentrated on the outstanding project of the construction of the largest theatre in Africa and in the Arab World. The project perfectly fits the traditional monumental construction commissioned by the State through an international contest. The proposal of Christian de Portzamparc and Rachid Andaloussi was selected among those of six renowned architects. Their new building should be completed by 2016-2017. As Ms. Hamamsi’s presentation specifically focused on the architectural description, we got quite a clear idea about the shell but it was somehow difficult to figure out the artistic or editorial options of the future theatre, that are to be elaborated in the coming years.
The last visit of our Orientation trip was quite the opposite. We visited L’Boulevard, an association dealing with young urban culture and more specifically with music and graphic design (www.boulevard.ma). The collective exists for 13 years. It was established as a movement for the defence of a young urban generation integrated in the global culture, while keeping a dialogue with its local culture. It deals with different productions related to music. Ranging from music videos, documentary films, magazine and production of records to the organisation of music festivals in Morocco or abroad. Since 2008, L’Boulevard is located in its permanent premises at the Casablanca’s Technopark, with an office, several rooms for playing music, a small concert hall, and even a recording studio that has to be completed. With such space and facilities, the collective can efficiently support local musicians in terms of production or distribution. At the moment,
L’Boulevard is developing its activity even further by setting up a web radio and a record label. With all these activities going on simultaneously in several rooms, the space seemed to be a very lively meeting place even though, at first glance, its location at the Technopark didn’t look very animated. Our impression was that the organisation really feels the need to promote and support a very strong young culture in Morocco and, while denying being political, it also appears to be a movement of resistance and subversive action against the mainstream culture.
Catherine Pavlovic and Amila Ramovic