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TAHIR SHAH’S CASABLANCA

See Morocco’s largest city through the eyes of a novelist who moved there and discovered sights overlooked even by locals

NEW TRAVEL SECRETS

@humanstew

HIS HANDS CLUTCHING THE STEM OF A DRIED palm frond, his thoughts far away, Mohammed sweeps the central path at Casablanca’s old Christian cemetery. On either side lies a sea of crumbling tombs. In some there are rosaries, crucifixes, porcelain wreaths and weathered photos of moustached gentlemen posing with their wives. Mohammed swishes the broom rhythmically back and forth, dust clouds billowing in the searing heat of late afternoon. His clothing drenched in sweat, he pauses to wipe a hand down over his gnarled face. ‘If you want to know about Casablanca,’ he says in a voice hoarse from a life-long love affair with Marquise cigarettes, ‘you have to understand this cemetery. It’s here that the city’s founders sleep side by side. Listen hard,’ he mumbles, ‘and you’ll hear them whispering their tales.’

A crumbling French-era building on the seafront
PHOTOGRAPHY PHILIP LEE HARVEY @philip_lee_harvey_photographer

Encircled by a towering whitewashed wall, the cemetery is open to the public, although most locals don’t even realise it’s there. Fabulously grand, it’s a time-capsule monument to the colonial families who built modern Casablanca from scratch a century ago.

Despite its traditional design elements, the huge Hassan II Mosque is Casablanca’s modern landmark, completed in 1993.

The commercial heart of Morocco, the city is on few travellers’ itineraries – reason in itself to explore. The butt of many Moroccan jokes, it’s often lampooned for being chaotic, crowded, far too bling, and not very old. After all, more than a few of the kingdom’s cities were founded over a thousand years ago.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - May 2017
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