Hassan II Mosque and 1st Impressions of Morocco
We arrived today at about 9:30am Moroccan time (4:30am EST) safe and sound and slightly exhausted from traveling all night. We met our wonderful guide Jamal at the airport. Jamal is from Casablanca and was thrilled to provide us with a tour of his home city. As soon as we stepped outside we knew we were in for a week of complete sensory overload. Our regular certainties of Maine, USA were immediately swept away by the full technicolor of AFRICA!
We first headed to the hotel to checkin and freshen up for our day. Jamal then took us to the “beach” for lunch in an outdoor seaside restaurant. Thankfully they had some indoor seating too because it started to rain. Jamal translated the menu for us and we all had an enjoyable lunch. Then we were off to the Hassan II Mosque. The Mosque is the second largest religious building in the world. It is enormous! It’s almost 1 million sq. ft. and two-thirds of it are built over the sea. Over 35,000 Moroccan craftsmen worked on it and it is incredibly ornate and beautiful. We learned that it has a prayer hall that can accomodate 25,000 and another 80,000 can gather outside for large religious celebrations such as Ramadan.
It was clear to all of us that Morocco is a land of vivid contrasts and this is very evident in Casablanca. Casablanca is the commercial and financial capital of Morocco and it is a baffling metropolis. None of us were quite prepared for the traffic jams and skyscrappers of Casablanca nor for the contradictions of the city with its well-kept parks, fountains and striking colonial architecture next to some huge shanty towns and obvious poverty. Here, we were also struck by the way that tradition and modernity co-exist. For every fashion conscious Moroccan woman wearing a name brand (Nike, Dior, Chanel) there was also a woman wearing the traditional Hijab. Or for every street-side donkey there was a cell-phone-wielding ten-year-old. Clearly, there is a broad spectrum of ideals among Moroccans.
Now for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow we head to Essaouira!