While most people have seen the movie Casablanca and may even be able to quote a few lines, not many people know much about the real city. In fact, the movie wasn’t even filmed in the city — instead, it was filmed far away in a Hollywood studio. From its founding, to its rise to the largest city in Morocco, here are 10 things you didn’t know about the real Casablanca.
It’s the largest city in the country
Not only is Casablanca the largest city in Morocco, it’s also the largest city in the entire Maghreb. The city packs in 3.3 million people in just 149 square miles, making it denser than every major city in the United States outside of New York City.
But there were only 20,000 people at the turn of the 20th century
Despite being so huge today, if you went back in time to 1900, there were very few people living there. After French occupation in the early 1900s, the city quickly grew as a major port, then expanded at an even faster pace after the French left.
It has the tallest minaret in the world
Built in 1993, the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca has the tallest minaret in the world at 689 feet high. The mosque is also the largest in Morocco and the 7th largest in the world. The massive grounds of the mosque have the capacity to hold over 100,000 worshipers at a time.
There is an actual Rick’s Cafe
You can find the famous Rick’s Cafe from the movie Casablanca in the city, although it isn’t the real one from the movie. Opened in 2004, this restaurant is meant to recreate the bar and is set inside a former mansion. Even though it’s pretty touristy, it’s worth going just to say you’ve been.
It was once home to pirates
Like many cities on the coast of Morocco, Casablanca was once home to pirates. The pirates used it as a base until it was attacked an occupied by Portugal in 1468. Although most of the pirates left the area around Casablanca, they continued to flourish for a few more centuries around Salé, around an hour north of the city.
It was destroyed by an earthquake
While you have probably heard of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you might not have heard of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake (pictured above) that destroyed most of Casablanca. Lisbon was hit worse by the damage as it was a larger city at the time, but Casablanca and the coast of Morocco suffered tremendously as well. After the earthquake (estimated at 8.5-9.0) shook the city , a tsunami came less than an hour later and pounded the coast.
It once had a United States airbase
If you’ve ever flown into Casablanca, you might be surprised to know that the Mohammed V International Airport used to be a United States airbase. The base operated from 1951 to 1963, until the United States agreed to leave after American intervention in the Lebanon conflict of 1958.
It was founded in the 7th Century BC
Although the population at the turn of the 20th century was rather small, the area had been through ups and down for thousands of years. The area which is now Casablanca was settled by Berbers around the 7th Century BC and was called Anfa at the time. It was later taken over by the Phoenicians, Romans, Almoravids, Merinids, Portuguese and more.
The movie wasn’t a very accurate portrayal of city life
As mentioned, the movie Casablanca wasn’t even filmed in the city, but there are some other glaring inaccuracies in the film. One of those is the portrayal of Casablanca’s populous. Although there were plenty of foreigners living in the city at the time because of the war, there were far more Arabs living there than the filmed portrayed.
It has by far the best economy in the country
While cities like Fez and Marrakech attract tourists by the thousands and seem more exotic, Casablanca does most of the work. The city accounts for one third of the entire country’s economy and over 50% of its industrial labor. It also has one of the highest GDPs in Africa. Not too bad for a city that only had 20,000 people in 1900.
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This article was originally published on November 16, 2015.