By Simon Brandon
For many in the west, the name Casablanca conjures images of a teary Ingrid Bergman and smoke-filled gin joints. But today, Morocco’s largest city and Africa’s financial powerhouse is more about banking than Bogart.
Africa’s financial centre
Casablanca is, according to the Global Financial Centres Index, Africa’s leading financial centre. Its success can be attributed in part to the establishment in 2010 of Casablanca Finance City (CFC), a business hub formed from a public-private partnership, located on the site of a defunct airport. The organisation’s mission is to make the city more attractive to foreign investors — and it is working: according to UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, Casablanca attracted $8.4bn of foreign direct investment between 2003 and 2016.
The cost of living in the city is 60 per cent lower than in London, according to data provider Expatistan, and there are tax breaks on offer for financial companies and their employees, too. Financial institutions and service providers with CFC status benefit from a five-year corporate tax holiday, while their employees can choose to pay a flat rate of 20 per cent income tax for 10 years instead of the standard progressive rate.
Architectural melting pot
Casablanca has been governed by the Roman empire, the British, the Spanish and, more recently, the French, who left when Morocco gained independence in 1956. Its architecture and culture reflect the city’s rich history, in particular the mixture of art deco and Moorish styles. The Hassan II mosque — the second-largest in Africa, completed in 1993 — boasts the world’s tallest religious minaret, at 200 metres high.
Casablanca’s restaurant scene is also infused with the city’s multicultural flavour and is developing a bit of a reputation as a destination for foodies. From fresh seafood and French cooking at the celebrated Taverne du Dauphin to traditional Moroccan cuisine at Le Cuisto Traditionnel and even the famous camel meat sandwiches at Ibil Snack on Rue Jura in the city’s Maarif district, you never need eat the same thing twice.
Riding the waves
With its warm summers, mild winters and long Atlantic coastline, Casablanca is a surfers’ paradise — so much so that Stab, a surfing magazine, named Casablanca one of the world’s top 10 cities for surfers. If you are looking to take some lessons, Ain Diab Surf School is located on — and named after — the city’s most popular beach.
Photographs: Dreamstime; Alamy