Surprising photos of real life in Casablanca

Is Morocco's port city as romantic as the film portrays?

By Christine Blau
photographs by Yassine “Yoriyas” Alaoui Ismaili
Published 23 Oct 2018, 21:39 BST
Photograph by Yassine “Yoriyas” Alaoui Ismaili

Visitors to Rick’s Café in Casablanca know exactly what to expect. Filigree lanterns pattern the faces of dining couples, palm trees reach to the ceiling, and a baby grand piano waits under an archway for Sam to play it again. The gin joint made famous by the 1942 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman is brought to life–yet Casablanca the movie wasn't based on Casablanca the city. No filming took place in Morocco, and the real Rick’s sat thousands of miles away in a Hollywood studio. That’s why local photographer, Yassine Alaoui Ismaili, sets the record straight by capturing the reality of daily life in the city he calls home.

“This project is the answer for all the people who ask me if Casablanca is like the movie,” says Yassine Alaoui Ismaili, who goes by the name, Yoriyas. “Tourists want to go to Rick’s Cafe, but many local people don’t even know about the film Casablanca.”

After finishing his study of mathematics, Yoriyas travelled to more than 30 countries as a breakdancer to attend competitions and promote the artform in Arab cultures. Photography started as a navigational tool to find his way through unfamiliar places and to share memories with those at home, before it became his main focus. [Discover the top ten activities in Casablanca.]

“Mathematics helps me to calculate different ways people can go or which angle will be the best perspective. Dance helps me because I’m a little bit flexible and I’m a physical photographer. I go fast, jump up, or use my flexibility to take a photo from the floor. For me, the camera viewfinder is like a stage, and the people on the street are like dancers.”

He choreographs scenes from the peripheral suburbs to the winding alleyways of the oldest neighbourhoods of Casablanca. The rhythm of Morocco’s most populated city and financial hub keeps time with a 65-foot-tall clocktower soaring over the busiest entrance to the old medina.

Across the city centre, the world’s highest minaret soars over 300 metres (656 feet) from Hassan II Mosque–Morocco’s largest and the country’s only house of worship which allows tourists to enter. Nearby along the Atlantic Ocean, the port reminds of the early 20th century when Casablanca shipped wool to the British textile industry and in turn, imported British tea for Morocco’s national mint version. Since opening in 2007, Tangiers-Med cargo port east of Tangiers now connects containers and cruise ships with Europe, just a few miles away. [Here's everything to know when planning a trip to Casablanca.]

"The strangeness–its a characteristic of this city," says photographer Yoriyas.
Photograph by Yassine “Yoriyas” Alaoui Ismaili

After Morocco was made a French Protectorate in 1912, the country developed its railway and Casablanca cut characteristic wide boulevards. French architect and historian Jean-Louis Cohen, co-author of the book Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures sums up the destination as "one of the most creative cities of all of France's empire, laid out according to an imaginative plan, with beautiful parks and striking architecture, from late Art Nouveau and Art Deco to radically modern."

Now slightly crumbling, the colonial-era architecture still stands alongside Art Deco buildings which surround the labyrinthine medina. Stepping outside the replica of Rick’s Cafe, tourists find a city of contrasts as portrayed in the whimsical series by Yoriyas. “I’m sending a letter of love to the city where I live and grew up.”

Follow the travels of Casablanca-based photographer Yassine Alaoui Ismaili on Instagram.

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