Where: Casablanca, Morocco, North Africa
History: Epic multi million dollar constructed opulent Mosque with intricate marble and towering minarets to house over 100,000 worshippers
Where It’s At
Casablanca, a world away from the picturesque scenes of Marrakech and Fès, is, thanks to the 1942 film of the same name, inextricably associated with the Western definition of Morocco (although not a single scene of the film was even filmed in the country!). Carefully planned by the French, its skyline is dominated by office and residential tower blocks while fashions are so far from traditional that it’s easy to forget you’re not in southern Europe.
Hassan II Mosque
The awe-inspiring Hassan II Mosque, the second biggest religious monument in the world after Mecca, was built to commemorate the sixtieth birthday of the former Moroccan king, is a must-see on a visit to Casablanca. Everything about it screams size; it has space for 25,000 worshippers inside and a further 80,000 outside, the 690 ft minaret is the tallest in the world and its roof the size of a football pitch. Even the cost – estimates range from $500 to $800 million – was astronomical and has led to ambivalence towards it on the part many city inhabitants. While they feel pride in the grandeur and undeniable beauty of the building, there’s a feeling that the money could have been used more responsibly and resentment that the construction of the mosque necessitated the destruction of a sizeable slum whose residents didn’t receive any compensation.
Feat of Architecture
There’s no doubting however, that it’s quite a feat of construction. The minaret is visible from anywhere in the city, the sun dancing across its pale marble and off the three gilded balls on the summit. Inside its massive doors there’s a shimmering interior of polished marble floors, granite columns and Moorish arches topped with cedar-panelled cupolas. The intricately decorated roof is lit by pale green crystal chandeliers and can be opened to flood the hall with light.
Perhaps the most inspired aspect of the Hassan II is its position on a reclaimed embankment. This is based on the verse of the Koran that states ‘the throne of God was built on the water’. It is also a clever piece of symbolism, reinforcing its developing Atlantic identity. For centuries Arabs were uneasy about the ‘Sea of Obscurity’ (Atlantic Ocean), associating it with invaders, colonists and weak tribes driven back from the heartland of Morocco. With the emergence of Casablanca as the country’s economic powerhouse, the message is that the Morocco must finally bring the coast into focus.
Visiting Hassan II Mosque
The Hassan II is the only mosque open to non-Muslims – for a fee! There are four guided tours per day (Saturday to Thursday, 9, 10, 11am and 2pm).
A veritable treasure chest of information for anyone interested in Morocco, its culture and sites.
By Kate Griffiths