Inspiration Andrea González

The architecture route in Casablanca

In addition to the imposing Hassan II Mosque, which rises on the shores of the Atlantic, a collection of Art Deco and Modernist buildings makes the city an ideal destination for lovers of architecture. Casablanca’s many legendary locations include the Post Office building, the Palace of Justice, the Bank of Morocco, colonial-era cinemas and avant-garde villas. We show you the most spectacular ones and tell you their stories.

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Casablanca evokes romantic, bohemian images. Thought of in the collective imagination as a meeting point for celebrities, intellectuals and diplomats, it overflows with contrasts and architectural transformations that had a profound impact on its layout during the 20th century. Its fundamental pillar is the monumental Hassan II Mosque on Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah Boulevard. It was inaugurated on 30 August 1993, the date on which the birth of the Prophet Muhammad is celebrated. With a capacity to accommodate up to 25,000 people in the inner prayer room and up to 80,000 on the esplanade, it is known worldwide for owning what was – until 2019 – the world’s tallest minaret. It soars 210m high and has a 30m-range laser always pointing in the direction of Mecca. The beauty of this building – built from plaster, marble, granite, fine woods, colourful tiles and Murano glass under the direction of Michel Pinseau – increases when you take into account its location, on the very shores of the Atlantic Ocean. To complete a visit to this part of the city, you can find a replica of the famous Rick’s Café, icon of the film Casablanca, a short distance from the mosque, also on Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah Boulevard. Continuing the route to Avenue des FAR, you will find the Medina Market, a gastronomic destination that no visitor should miss.


Colonnade of the Hassan II Mosque, with mosaics at the base of each column
Colonnade of the Hassan II Mosque, with mosaics at the base of each column.

Just a ten-minute walk from the market is the Cinema Rialto, a gem built in 1929 by architect Pierre Jabin at the intersection of Rue Mohamed El Quorri and Rue Bouchaïb. Rialto – one of Morocco’s oldest cinemas and one of the great examples of Casablanca’s Art Deco architecture – was the scene of international premières and hosted performances by superstars such as Édith Piaf and Josephine Baker. It can still be visited today. From Cinema Rialto, you can take a short walk to the Central Post Office, on the corner of the Boulevard de Paris and Boulevard Hassan II. The work of the architect Adrien Laforgue, it was built in Moorish Revival style with Modernist influences between 1918 and 1920. Its impressive blue entrance contrasts with the wooden interior ceiling. It has been one of the most admired administrative buildings in the city for more than a century and is closely linked to what will be our next stop, after seeing the historic headquarters of Bank Al-Maghrib, designed – like the one in Rabat –by Edmond Brion and completed in 1937.    

The famous façade of the Central Post Office.
The famous façade of the Central Post Office.

Just three minutes away is Mohammed V Square, one of the most famous locations in Casablanca. The administrative heart of the city, it bears witness to France’s colonial presence without letting ago of its strong North African character. In the early 20th century, the French colonial authorities – embodied in the figure of the official Louis Hubert Lyautey – decided to ‘Europeanise’ cities such as Rabat or Casablanca. Together with the architect Henri Prost, developing a great urban transformation plan that aimed to create modern administrative centres attached to the Moroccan medinas. Plans for this new square were developed in 1916, and the architect Joseph Marrast was commissioned to create the Palace of Justice with one condition: to integrate the influences of Arab styles into French architectural precepts, taking inspiration from traditional Mauro-Andalusi buildings. The Palace of Justice dominates what is popularly known as ‘Pigeon Square’, and marks the style of adjacent buildings. A case in point is the Wilaya Building, designed by Marius Boyer to house the political administration of the French protectorate, which combines Art Deco and Moorish Revival influences.

The Palace of Justice dominates the Place des Pigeons
The Palace of Justice dominates the Place des Pigeons

Crossing Arab League Park, you will find the former Casablanca Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Today, it serves as a cultural centre. Designed by Paul Tournon in the 1930s, this building was inspired by the Art Deco and Neogothic styles, and features aspects of Andalusi architecture, such as the geometric drawings of the stained-glass windows. In a straight line from the Sacred Heart along Boulevard Brahim Roudani is the important Villa des Arts cultural centre, today dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions. It is located in what was once an Art Deco mansion from 1934 and is surrounded by typical local vegetation.

The former Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Casablanca has an entirely white façade in accordance with the precepts of Mediterranean culture, although its plan is purely neo-Gothic.
The former Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Casablanca is now a cultural centre.

Streets such as Rue Driss Lahrizi and Rue Chaouia offer an inspiring stroll. Their numerous Art Deco buildings are perfect examples of the architectural development of Casablanca during the inter-war period. The latter street is home to the Hôtel Transatlantique, built in 1922 and easily recognisable by its façade. Just a few steps away stands the Imperial Hotel, also the work of Marius Boyer. It is famous for having housed the US General Patton’s headquarters during World War II. The Moorish Revival Chamber of Commerce is nearby on Boulevard Mohammed V. Be sure to visit the Villa Zevaco mansion, located in the Anfa District and built by architect Jean-François Zevaco. He was a pioneer of Modernist architecture in North Africa and also responsible for the Kora Ardia, the dome of the United Nations Square in Casablanca, which is the location of other Modernist and Moorish Revival landmarks, such as the legendary Hotel Excelsior. Villa Zevaco was created for the builder Sami Suissa in 1947. It received international recognition for the great originality of its lines. Today Villa Zevaco houses café PAUL.

The tour cannot conclude without mentioning the Habous quartier. It was built between the 1920s and 1930s by the French protectorate authorities as part of Henri Prost’s nouvelle ville indigène urban development project, which also included the planning for Mohammed V Square. In 1916, Albert Laprade was commissioned, together with Edmond Brion and Auguste Cadet, to design a new medina in a new space of the city in the local traditional style, while still applying European urban planning precepts. As a result, one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods of Casablanca emerged, with monuments such as the Royal Palace (the official residence of the King of Morocco in the city built in the 1920s) and the Mahkamat al-Pasha, designed in 1941 as an administrative complex and residence of the governor during the period of the protectorate. Its courtyard was inspired by the Alhambra’s Patio of the Lions. 


The buildings in the Habous quartier are the best example of Casablanca's architecture in the 20th century.
The buildings in the Habous quartier are the best example of Casablanca's architecture in the 20th century.