By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant
After visits to the islands of Cape Verde, the Canaries, and Madeira, we move back now to mainland Africa: Casablanca in Morocco. And some of us went on a side trip to Rabat, the capital.
From our ship, or from any high point on land, it’s easy to see at a glance the geographic relationship between northern Morocco and Spain.
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The two continents were bridged by land as recently as 5.3 million years ago, a few moments in geological time.
Today only about 9 miles or 14 kilometers separate Africa from Europe.
A Gnawa musician inside the Kasbah at Rabat. Gnawa is a stirring form of music with a strong rhythm; its roots are in Ghana but nearly the only place it is played is in Morocco. Some believe it gave birth to jazz. Photo by Corey Sandler
Morocco has a population of about 35 million, about the same as Canada.
And you won’t hear this sentence all that often: Morocco and Canada are similar in another context.
The vast majority of the population of Morocco live within about one hundred miles of the coast; in Canada, nearly all of the population is that far from the border with the United States.
Morocco, though, is much smaller.
Only about 172,410 square miles; Canada is 22 times larger.
Casablanca is the largest city and principal port; Rabat is the national capital.
The King’s Palace in Rabat. Photo by Corey Sandler
When World War II began, North Africa quickly fell under control of Axis powers. Italy moved first, into Ethiopia.
Germany dispatched Field Marshal Erwin Rommel—the Desert Fox—and his Afrikacorps Panzers and they had initial victories in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
And Morocco—a French protectorate—came under the collaborationist Vichy French.
That was the environment under which Rick Blaine (or Humphrey Bogart, if you prefer) operated Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca.
The Allies pushed back in late 1942.
It was decided it was too soon to launch a cross-channel attack from England to France. The British pushed for a second front: against Axis forces in Africa, in what was called Operation Torch.
In addition to forces from the United Kingdom, Operation Torch was the first major operation by Americans.
They sailed directly from the United States, the only instance in World War II where a significant force was loaded in American ports and landed directly on a hostile beach.
The Allies achieved strategic surprise, but the operation was delayed by French forces, who fought back in many locations including Morocco.
Why? French Vichy troops were told by the Germans there would be retribution in France if they failed to fight off the Allied invasion.
But French opposition ended in November. And some 275,000 Germans and Italians surrendered on the Cape Bon Peninsula in Tunisia on May 12, 1943.
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat. Mohammed VI, his grandson, is now on the throne. Photos by Corey Sandler
Once Morocco was under Allied control, it became an important base for air raids on Sicily and France, and also crucial in controlling the choke point of the Strait of Gibraltar.
Before, during, and after World War II, Moroccans did not much like their French overseers. They were denied freedom of speech, assembly, and travel.
Just as happened in other colonies—including Algeria—a nationalist movement rose in Morocco.
On March 2, 1956, after forty-four years of occupation, the Kingdom of Morocco gained independence from France and Spain.
Inside the ancient Medina of Casablanca, which bears no resemblance to a Tesco or a Safeway or most any other place most of us shop. At right, the apparent losers of camel races, ready for roasting. Photos by Corey Sandler
Haute couture in the Medina of Casablanca. Photos by Corey Sandler
Spain held on to the Spanish Sahara, to the south and west, until the death of Francisco Franco in 1975. Today that territory is still uncertain.
What is now called the Western Sahara is considered by the United Nations to be a non-self-governing territory.
That is the same status given by the UN to Gibraltar.
Not-so-haute cuisine in Casablanca. Do they know his name is Colonel Sanders? Photos by Corey Sandler
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