This is what the Hassan II Mosque on the shores of the ice-blue Atlantic Ocean in Morocco’s northern coast looked like when I landed up at its doorstep one wintry morning in November. ❤
Can you blame me if my camera and I went a little berserk with joy!
It had rained the previous day. With the sun now out, it was as if the world had been painted afresh and the sky and the sea truly met at “god’s throne.” Wonder what I am talking about? Do read on.
Casablanca does not fit into the usual travel itinerary of Morocco. With exotic imperial cities and the Sahara Desert vying for attention instead, a port city is not exactly unmissable. But for those who do make the time to halt in the casa [house] blanca [white] town by the sea, the rewards are many, topped by a monumental mosque in honour of its past king, Hassan II.
Whether one is in the city for a few days or a few hours, no trip to Casablanca is complete without a dekko of this pièce de résistance. What makes the mosque so spectacular? Apart from being an atmospheric visual delight, my conclusion [after a smitten visit] is it boils down to the below eight reasons. 🙂
1. Showcase of Morocco’s finest art and architecture
Moroccan architecture is a fantastical concoction of Moorish horseshoe arches, circular floral patterns in zellige, Islamic calligraphy in stucco-work, painted cedar ceilings, and intricate muqarnas. These art forms are as old as Morocco’s history, showing up repeatedly in its monuments. Of all of these, my favourite and that which is most typical to Morocco is the zellige. Made from individually chiselled geometric tiles set into plaster, it has its origins in Al-Andalus and dates back to the 8th Century AD.
If you would like to see the absolute finest of all things traditional in the Moroccan arts and architecture, please note, they are in the Hassan II Mosque where no cost or effort was spared in either design or execution.
2. The largest mosque in Africa with the tallest minaret in the world
I will let the numbers do the talking here.
Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Africa and the seventh largest in the world. Its main hall is 200 metres long, 100 metres wide and 60 metres high, and can seat a whopping 25,000 worshippers for prayer inside and 80,000 outside. The 210 metre [60 storey] high minaret, topped with a laser beam pointing towards Mecca, is the tallest minaret in the world. The roof, covered with 300,000 tiles, is decorated with 14 domes and 50 Murano glass chandeliers, the latter 6 metres in diameter, 10 metres in height and weighing 1,200 kilograms each. And if that is not enough, the 22-acre complex also comprises a madrasa [Islamic school], hammams [bath-houses], museum, conference halls, and a library. Oh, and yeah, there are 45 fountains in the ablution hall too!
3. Paid for by 12 million Moroccans
Needless to say, an edifice of such monumental dimensions and ethereal craftmanship had to cost truck-loads of money. Yup, the budget for the Hassan II Mosque was close to US Dollars 700 million. But being a lower middle-income country, there was not enough funds in the government coffers to pay for King Hassan II’s dream of having a place of worship in Morocco which was only second to that in Mecca.
Whilst corporates and the Arab countries paid for part of the mosque, a sizable chunk came from 12 million Moroccan citizens who funded it through public subscription. Each donor was given a receipt and certificate in acknowledgement, making the people of Morocco the true, legit owners of the Hassan II Mosque.
4. Handcrafted by 6,000 artisans over 5 years
Five years. 6,000 indigenous artisans from all over the Moroccan kingdom. Cedar wood from the Middle Atlas Mountains. Marble from Agadir. Granite from Tafraoute.
The result: 53,000 sq. metres of carved and painted wood, and 10,000 sq. metres of exquisite zellige [ceramic mosaic] in 80 gorgeous patterns. Add to this list, extensive plaster-work, innumerable marble columns and floors, and titanium and bronze doorways. All handcrafted in traditional Moroccan design wrapped around a structure of reinforced cement and steel. It is incredible what the human hand can create. And when in the glory of god, it tends to reach its zenith.
5. A hand-painted cedar ceiling which opens in 5 minutes
One of the key highlights of the Hassan II Mosque is its colossal roof, which lo-behold slides open at the touch of a button. Covering an area of 3,400 sq. metres, the carved cedar wood roof is painted in minute detail with Moroccan Islamic motifs and topped with green tiles. The entire contraption weighs 1,100 tons. Yet it takes a mere 5 minutes for it to retract smoothly and in the process illuminate the main prayer hall with natural sunlight or moonlight. A perfect combination of Moroccan aesthetics and modern technology!
Factoid: Talking about technology, the flooring is centrally heated, the loud-speakers are concealed inside architectural elements and a lift whizzes up the 60-storey-high minaret in less than a minute. 😀
6. Ode to the Moroccan Alaouite monarchy
“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 [reign 1961 to 1999]
Like most of Morocco’s other architectural treasures, the Hassan II Mosque is also aimed at royal posterity. Unlike the others, it is recent. In fact, it is just 25 years old. The mosque was commissioned by Hassan II, the 2nd Alaouite king of independent Morocco and father of the current king Mohamed VI.
French architect and Moroccan resident Michel Pinseau designed the mosque. Civil engineering group Bouygues constructed it. Started in July 1986, completion was scheduled for July 1989 to coincide with the king’s 60th birthday. However, it got delayed and was inaugurated on 30 August 1993 instead, on the eve of the Prophet Muhammed’s birth anniversary. A classic case of Man, sorry King proposes; God disposes.
Factoid: Morocco is ruled by the Arab-origin Alaouite dynasty since 1666. The rulers were called Sultans till 1957.
7. Built over the Atlantic Ocean because “Allah’s throne is on the water”
For the Muslims reading this post, the sub-heading ‘Built over the Atlantic Ocean because “Allah’s throne is on the water”’ will in all likelihood make perfect sense. However, if you are a non-Muslim, I bet you are confused to bits on what this means.
Well, according to the Koran, Allah’s throne is on the water. This concept forms the very backbone and raison d’être of the Hassan II Mosque. To give tangible shape to this belief, the mosque is built partly on land and partly over the Atlantic Ocean. A feat which was achieved by setting up the structure on a platform linking land to a rocky outcrop in the sea, so technically one is praying over the water when in the mosque.
8. A little bit of every other historical grand mosque
If you are a world traveller and have had the opportunity to visit mosques far and wide, you may be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu at the Hassan II Mosque.
The designers of the Hassan II Mosque have used elements from various historical Islamic places of worship, both within Morocco, and from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East to create a seamless collage of beauty. Hence, there are design components from other Moroccan mosques such as the incomplete Tour Hassan in Rabat, al-Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fes, and Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, as well as the great mosques of Algiers, Cordoba, Damascus, Israel, Medina, and Tunisia.
And if you are not a world traveller, here is the chance for you to experience the very best in architectural design of a multitude of other mosques, all under one roof.
- The Hassan II Mosque is one of only two mosques in Morocco which allows non-Muslims to enter inside.
- Entry is only through hourly 45-minute guided tours. At other times the mosque functions as a place of worship.
- Ticket: 120 Dirhams; Photography with flash is allowed.
- For the best atmospheric light, plan your visit for the morning.
- For more information on the mosque, visit their website here.
- For more information on Morocco as a travel destination, visit the national tourism office website here.
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[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my travels to Morocco for 3 weeks in November-December, 2018. To read more posts in my Morocco series, click here.]