The origin of the town is not known. A Berber village called Anfa stood on the present-day site in the 12th century and it became a pirates’ base for harrying Christian ships and was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1468. The Portuguese returned to the area in 1515 and built a new town called Casa Branca (“White House”). It was abandoned in 1755 after a devastating earthquake, but the Alawi Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abd Allah rebuilt the town in the late 18th century. Spanish merchants, who named it Casablanca, and other European traders, began to settle there.
The French after a time outnumbered other European settlers, and the name Maison Blanche (“White House”) became as common as Casablanca. The French occupied the town in 1907, and during the French protectorate (1912–56) Casablanca became the chief port of Morocco. Since then, the growth and development of the city have been continuous and rapid. During World War II the city was the seat of a British – U.S. summit conference in 1943. The man-made port of Casablanca is protected from the sea by a breakwater and handles most of Morocco’s foreign trade.
With the pilot onboard the Saga Ruby proceeded to make her way into the port, taking refuge behind the breakwater, though to be honest, the sea was calm with only a slight swell running. There was unfortunately a dredger right in the middle of the fairway to the inner harbour that necessitated that the vessel slalom around it in order to safely enter the port. Once this obstacle had been navigated, the engines were run astern to bring her up quickly in the confines of the inner harbour, before the vessel completed a 180-degree turn to port and came to rest, starboard side alongside.
Casablanca has had notoriety in shipping circles, for being a stowaway hotspot. With this in mind port security was high profile, and just in case the integrity of the shore side security staff was in doubt, ship’s crew were placed as extra lookouts at each end of the ship too, amongst other precautions taken!
I’d been to Casablanca many times before on ship, but had never been ashore further than needed to check the ships forward and aft drafts before departure. This time I took the opportunity to venture into town on the shuttle bus and see the place for myself!
Some people like the hustle and bustle of the North African markets such as the one in Casablanca; I can honestly say I do not share their enthusiasm in embracing this side of their culture. The vendors will try to get you to buy souvenirs that you don’t really want, or fake goods brandishing designer labels, some of which even have the correct spelling on them. I found myself briefly looking at tureens! I’d seen Rick Stein use one on the TV, but fortunately came to my senses when weighing up my culinary expertise against what I’d seen on the rest of the program and walked away.
Haggling is a way of life in this environment and is not for the feint hearted. As a rule of thumb if the vendor is still smiling and is as happy at the end of a transaction as when he first introduced himself to you, then you’ve been ripped off! The key to successful haggling is to stick to your low offer and walk out of the shop. The vendor will nine times out of ten, follow you and cut his price. And if you think the price is too high, go with your instincts and keep walking.
Having returned to the ship with my wallet intact, everyone accounted for and the vessel ready for sea, the Saga Ruby “let go” her lines and proceeded out into the Atlantic Ocean, once again having to navigate around the inconveniently located dredger.