When we booked our tickets to Kenya, we intentionally chose Royal Air Maroc because of the six hour layover in Casablanca. The goal was to get out and make a quick trp to the city on the way home. Unfortunately, when we first landed in the city, we didn’t get to make it out the airport. This time, though, we were determined.
It took a moment, but we finally made it through customs and into the city. We were now on the clock, having to be back, through security and checked in a couple of hours before our plane left. We already knew where we wanted to go; it was just a matter of figuring out how to get there considering very, very, very few people seemed to speak English.
We found a cab driver who knew, well, virtually no English. But when you’re on the clock, there’s no time to shop around. At least he understood where we wanted to go, as most tourists request — the Hassan II Mosque.
When we got there, he found someone who spoke English and made an offer. Instead of paying the fare to the mosque, we pay him 100 euros and he’ll wait, with our bags, and be our driver for the day. Nduku, who’s definitely more skeptical than I am while traveling, instantly wanted to say no. Me being the naive traveler I can be, was all for it. We compromised. We said yes but we’d pay him when we were done. I left my carry-on which was tricky because it had a lot of camera equipment in it. Nduku kept her luggage, which meant I had to lug her luggage around.
No matter. We were there. The weather was perfect. The mosque is just off the ocean with a picturesque view. All was good.
They do tours, of course, but it was a timed tour so we spent a bit more time there than we planned. But what’s the point of only getting an abbreviated introduction to this massive mosque just to get glimpses of the rest of Casablanca before having to head back.
But it was cool. I could’ve just hung around outside the mosque and drank it all in.
The Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II is the largest mosque in Morocco, the second largest in Africa, and the 5th largest in the world. Its minaret is the world’s tallest minaret at 689 ft. The minaret is 60 stories high topped by a laser, the light from which is directed towards Mecca. The mosque stands on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic Ocean; worshippers can pray over the sea but there is no glass floor looking into the sea. The walls are of hand-crafted marble and the roof is retractable. A maximum of 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer: 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosque’s outside ground.
At 690 ft in height the minaret is the tallest religious structure in the world. It has a laser beam fitted at the top, which is electronically operated in the evening. It is oriented towards Mecca, across the sea and has a range of 19 miles. The minaret is said to enhance the visual alignment of the boulevard. It is square in shape thrusting skyward. The base to the top width ratio of 1 to 8 (between basement and the summit) has a marble covering on the exterior with austere decoration. The faces of the facade have carved ornamentation with different materials. There are stitches of roudani tracetine on a 100,000 MP surface. This decorative material (with chrome and green as dominant colours), is a substitute for the use of bricks, the material used in many other notable minarets, and has given the mosque an extraordinary elegance.
Green tiles decorate the minaret for one third of the height from the top, and then changes color to deep green or turquoise blue; it is said that in the Hassan II minaret, the designer had used his sea-foam green and God’s blue to celebrate the life of a king. The concrete used for the minaret was a special high-grade type, which could perform well under severe conditions of a combined action of strong wind and seismicity. This was achieved by the Science Department of the Bouygues Group, the contractors for the project, who developed an extra-strength concrete four times stronger than ordinary concrete.
The exterior of the mosque was already impressive. Somehow, though, the inside was even more fascinating. It’s huge. The work is very intricate. The marble floors, the way the light enters the space, the humongous prayer hall — all was awe-inspiring.
We did have a little time leftover and our taxi driver insisted we check out Morocco Mall. It’s the second-largest shopping center in Africa with 2.1 million square feet of floor space. And it’s fancy. It’s expensive. We could’ve spent the enter six hour layover there and not seen it all. But we were on the clock, grabbed a bite, then headed back to the airport.