Casablanca - Africa's European City
While Rabat is still Morocco's political centre, the city of Casablanca is the country's capital in all but name. By far Morocco's biggest city - with a population of around 3.8 million - it is a true metropolis and, in fact, the sixth biggest city in the whole of Africa.
In and around Casablanca lie Morocco's most fertile plains, the country's chief port (one of the largest artificial ports on the planet), the base for the Moroccan Royal Navy and the country's principal, modern economic industries, making Casablanca the trade and industry engine for the whole of Morocco. Meanwhile, 51% of Moroccan passenger traffic passes through Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport.
It's quite a turn around for a city that, until 150 years ago, could boast just 5,000 residents - it then became a major supplier of wool for the British textile industry and began exporting its famous Gunpowder Tea to the same country.
Modern Casablanca is just that - a throbbing, vibrant metropolis which bears much more in common with the cities of southern Europe than other African cities. Indeed, while Casablanca's old medina is an astonishing and engaging place to walk around, it attracts far fewer tourists than those of other towns. However, tourism is becoming more and more important to Casablanca and parts of the medina are now being restored.
The result is that much of the action takes place in the wider, more westernised streets; for anyone looking for a taste of Africa with the infrastructure and opportunities of Europe, Casablanca is just that place. Visitors will find a whole range of accommodation on offer, from studios and villas to hostels and hotels; restaurants are much like any European city, with everything from traditional to take-away on offer, with eateries to suit every wallet.
An Embarrassment of Riches - Casablanca
Casablanca residents enjoy their free time too and, for many, that means hitting the seaside suburb of Ain Diab, where the beach clubs with their pools, cafes and sports facilities draw big crowds. It's the perfect place for an action-packed day, to simply soak up some rays with a cold drink or just to get away from the city Casablanca.
That's not to say that Casablanca itself is not beautiful and historical; the Henri Prost-designed French New Town - added during the French protectorate of the city - is a stunning mixture of grandiose Hispano-Mauresque and Art Deco styles, and in its wide streets you'll find majestic hotels, official buildings and grand villas. Arguably the best French quarter in Morocco.
A stroll through the Parc de la Ligue Arabe to the Cathedrale du Sacré Coeur - a reminder of Casablanca's multicultural past - is certainly worth a visit, as is a visit to the Technopark or catching a movie at the Rialto Cinema, the 1930s Art Deco cinema where your surroundings are every bit as diverting as what's on screen. Perhaps its greatest attraction is the imposing Hassan II Mosque, which boasts the world's tallest minaret at 210 metres. More impressive still is the mosque's enormous glass floor, through which 25,000 worshippers can gaze out to the Atlantic, while the courtyard accommodates an additional 80,000 people.