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).