Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city; but unlike the rest of the country’s major cities that were founded between the seventh and fifteenth centuries, Casablanca’s history is quite recent.
Casablanca was one of five new planned cities in Morocco after the establishment of the French protectorate in 1912. This political decision aimed at the creation of modern urban centers neighboring the walled medieval Moroccan cities. Henri Prost, a French architect and urban planner, was appointed as the head of a new agency in charge of the development of the new cities. In 1915, Prost presented the first development plan for Casablanca. His work became a reference for urban planning and development in France post World War I.
The new city became a hub for renowned European architects. Casablanca was an open experimentation field with no restrictions or aesthetic constraints. The city hosts the biggest concentration to date of juxtaposed Neo-Classic, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Neo-Moorish and modern structures, and is considered a live reference in architecture history.
But how do Moroccans view this significant architectural asset?
Casablanca’s particular history creates a controversial debate on whether its colonial architecture and urban environment should be preserved as part of Moroccan heritage. The debate was started by a small group of Casablanca residents, who in 1995 created an association called Casamémoire to advocate for the preservation and classification of the city center’s buildings on the national list of historic buildings and sites. The classification will protect these buildings from speculator greed in a city where developable land is scarce.
However, local authorities do not consider the preservation of colonial architecture as a priority. To date, only forty-nine buildings are listed and many others are simply torn down as a measure of security (due to their defective structure) or to make space for new developments. The story of the Lincoln Hotel, an abandoned 1916 Neo-Moorish building, is illustrative of this ambient negligence.
Amidst this situation, Casamémoire organizes informative interactive tours, events and manifestations where Casablanca residents are invited to discover their city. “Les journées du patrimoine” (heritage days), a three-day event of free guided tours, is now an annual tradition. The association has also published a guide featuring Casablanca’s different architectural styles and historical layers.
More and more people from Casablanca are becoming aware of the quality of their architectural environment; but more political engagement is needed. A new development plan that turned Casablanca’s center main street into a pedestrian-friendly one and introduced a streetcar platform has given buildings on this street a new lift, as many owners engaged in a façade restoration program prescribed by the new plan. Modern architecture lovers are, however, waiting for more structural decisions and actions that will grant a better future to these buildings.
Would you consider a colonial heritage part of your history? Are there any controversial historic preservation debates in your community?
Credits: Images by Aicha El Beloui and Carola Bieniek. Data linked to sources.