Sept 12 – 15, 2014
Written by Roxanne and Len
It was a long grueling bus ride from Essaouira. Almost 8 hours of swerving and speeding. When we got into Casablanca a driver was waiting to take us to our apartment. We had a great location. Grocery store right across the street, which is always important for our family; the old medina just a few blocks way and the Hassan II Mosque only a short walk away. Perfect spot as we were only in Casablanca for few days.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived in the city was all the buildings, offices, business and corporate signage and so on. People were wearing business attire, carrying attaches, briefcases and laptop bags. It was a different kind of bustle than Marrakech. Casablanca was much more of a business city.
On our first full day in Casablanca we headed to the old medina. The guidebook warned us about how dilapidated it was, but we went anyway. Just how bad could it be? Honestly, it was by far the worst medina we had been to, not that we had been to that many. It was over-crowded, dirty and smelled really bad. It looked more like a flea market of vendors selling used goods and a lot of stuff you would find in a Wal-Mart. It was really a run down area, especially in the areas just outside the Medina. We got many questioning looks; probably because we were only one of a handful of Caucasian people there. There did not appear to be many tourists, and if there were, as far as we could tell they would have been local tourists.
We did stop and pick up a few things. At one of the entrances was a souk selling books and school supplies. There were a number of shops selling used school books and people were lining up to get in. We stopped to buy some school supplies for the kids. They needed pencils, erasers, pencil crayons and the like. For 75 dirham, less than $10 CAD, we walked way with a bag full of supplies.
The next day we took a tour of the Hassan II Mosque. It is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims can go into. We had seen many mosques so far, from the outside, so we didn’t want to miss the chance to go on a tour of it. I was not feeling well, so Len took the kids, while I stayed at home.
Here is Len’s summary about the tour of the mosque:
The kids and I walked to the mosque, it was a relatively short walk. The difference between the Mosque and the neighborhood was striking. The Mosque, museum, government and other buildings around the Mosque were all new, attractive and well kept. On the other hand the neighborhood was a mix of buildings, shops, apartments, empty lots and so on, ranging from being in good shape to dilapidated and neglected. There was lots of graffiti. The multimillion dollar Mosque and other buildings stood in stark contrast to the obviously less wealthy neighborhood. From what I read about Casablanca and the Mosque, it was a bit of a controversy that the expensive Mosque was being built amidst the sprawling poverty that many Casablanca residents live in. Our guide book said despite Casablanca being the commercial center of Morocco, that the downtown core of bank and business buildings are surrounded by the widespread shantytowns where a large portion of city residents live. Part of what we are hoping our kids take home from this trip, is an understanding of the living conditions and cultures of other countries, so that they can come to truly appreciate the standard of life and freedoms we have in Canada.
When we arrived at the Mosque we found out we had to wait about an hour, until the next tour time. As non-Muslims our entrance to the Mosque, had to be on a guided tour. So while waiting, we explored the outside courtyard/square area and took some photos of the remarkable architecture and craftsmanship.
The Hassan II Mosque was begun in 1987 and was completed in 1993. Thousands of workers and craftsmen worked on it, and the cost to build it was immense. It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is the most majestic building in Casablanca.
There is a section in the mosque (we did not get to see it) which has a glass floor so that the people praying can see the ocean below them. As well, the mosque has a huge ornate retractable roof that can be opened and closed in a matter of minutes. We did not get to see the roof retracted while there, but had we, it would have been a very impressive sight. The mosque was purposely designed with the glass floor and retractable roof so that worshipers could look down at the beauty of the ocean and world and could also look up to see the beauty of the sky and heavens. The mosque (with its minaret) is said to be the tallest building in Morocco, at 200 meters, with a blue laser beam at the top that shines towards Mecca. It is the world’s third largest mosque and can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 in the square outside.
We took many pictures, and as usual, the photos simply can not portray the impressiveness and beauty of the building. A panoramic 360 degree camera would do the trick, but we do not have one of those. Below are a few of the many photos we took.
I could go on and on about the details of the mosque, in fact there were tourist guide books, just to inform you about details of the Mosque. In getting a tour we got to see much Muslim craftsmanship and architecture, and learned a little about the Muslim Faith.
The Holy day for Muslims is Friday (I am not sure why). All of the Mosque minarets have loud speakers at the top. Five times a day you will hear a call for prayer, from the loud speakers of each Mosque. Those times are: at sunrise; midday; the middle of the afternoon; sunset and two hours after sunset. Before prayer men and women wash at fountains near or in each Mosque, then go to pray in separate areas of the Mosque. If a believer is not able to make it to a Mosque, there are common places set up in the community they can go to pray with others, or they can use their own prayer carpet, that they keep with them. They point the carpet towards Mecca and pray wherever they are at the time. On Fridays with prayer there is also teaching, by a religious leader, much like a sermon, given to worshippers, about the Qur’an or about their faith. Friday prayers usually have much higher attendance than other weekday prayers. Inside each Mosque there is a “Niche” in the wall, towards which they pray, and it always faces towards Mecca. Muslims regard Mecca as a Holy place, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca is a goal Muslims hope to one day achieve. There are many things that are jointly believed by Muslims and Christians. Having seen such a beautiful Mosque and having had the chance to learn a little about the Muslim faith was a good experience.
Our time in Casablanca was short, but it was an enjoyable piece of our travel across Morocco.