There are some places in the world that you know are going to be all wrong the minute you get off the plane.
For me, that was Casablanca.
Casablanca left me largely unimpressed and even quite wary – nothing went my way, from the plane ride to the hotel check-in, and everything in between. My travel friends and I even had to eat at the forbidden Golden Arch because it’s the only place we didn’t feel judged or intensely observed. All I know is that I felt threatened, unsafe, unsure of what the attractions were and quite disappointed by the ugly commercial buildings scattered around the city.
And also, within minutes of my first exploratory walk around the hotel, a bird pooped on me.
I think that was a warning sign. Go away you evil blond creature!
Thank heavens, Casablanca was just a quick halt on my Moroccan Adventure and it wasn’t long before our guide took us to the north of the country. But not before he took us through a guided visit of the city’s only landmark (Rick’s Café doesn’t count, as it was solely built to fool ignorant tourists), the grandiose Hassan II Mosque.
The Hassan II Mosque – A Bit of History
It all started in the mid-1980s when the King of Morocco, Hassan II, acknowledged the important lack of architectural and historical landmarks in Casablanca. The city had covered herself in apartment buildings, offices and headquarters, but had very little cultural life, or anything to offer to a rapidly growing tourism flow.
“I wish Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud until the end of time … I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.” – King Hassan II
The Hassan II Mosque was indeed built on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean, the seabed being visible from the glass floor in the great hall. The construction, however, wasn’t free of controversy: much of the $750 million needed to build the Mosque was financed directly from Moroccans themselves. Every single family was obligated to pay a set minimum amount, in exchange for a certificate of donation.
The Mosque, at completion in 1993, became Morocco’s largest, and the 7th largest in the whole world. Its minaret, at 210 metres high, is the highest in the world. The entire Mosque’s complex covers over 22 acres of land: the main hall can welcome around 25,000 worshipers while over 80,000 people can gather on the outside grounds. Interestingly enough, only the stained glass and chandeliers were imported from Italy. All the other materials, like cedar, marble and granite, were brought from different regions of the country.
I may hate Casablanca with all my heart, but I will gladly go back again if only to step into this spectacular building.
The guided tour was fascinating, and very informative for Islamic neophytes. The traditions related to prayers and the Islamic culture were very well explained and set the tone for the rest of my time in Morocco.
The Hassan II Mosque – In Photos
The Hassan II Mosque – Good to Know
- Guided tours are possible from Saturday to Thursday, at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 or 14:00, or daily at 14:30 in the summer.
- Guided tours cost 120 dirhams (around $12).
- Visitors need to respect a strict dress code: no shoes, covered knees and shoulders.
Have you visited the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca? Was it also the highlight of your trip there? Is it one of your favourite religious buildings around the world?