Part of: Southern Spain and Morocco
We stayed one night in Casablanca, specifically to see the gleaming new Hassan II Mosque (and secondarily the enjoyable Sacre-Coeur Cathedral). We aimed for the 11am guided tour of the former this morning.
We got a little lost on our way to the mosque. We had assumed it couldn't be too hard to just head for the tallest minaret in the world, but the streets twist and turn and buildings often blocked our view. We ended up coming through a poor and dusty part of town, with no other foreigners in sight and piles of garbage everywhere.
The humble scene was a stark contrast to the gleaming marble mosque up ahead, as well as our digital cameras. But despite their poverty and our evident comparative wealth, no one approached us. Indeed, Casablanca was the only Moroccan city in which we were nearly always ignored - it was wonderful.
When we finally arrived, the abundance of cream-colored marble combined with the hot Moroccan sun was nearly blinding! The size, expense and artistry of the building were also extremely impressive, just as King Hassan II intended.
Our tour began in a downstairs area just outside the mosque, in a cool marble room with large and clean bathrooms. We bought our tickets from the counter (there's a small gift shop, too) then waited by a sign for the tour in English. When the tour began, we removed our shoes at the entrance to the mosque and were given plastic bags to carry them in.
The guided tour was excellent. It took about an hour and was led by a young woman who spoke excellent English. She pointed out all the notable features of the mosque, including where the speakers are cleverly hidden in the prayer area, and told some of its history. She made many jokes throughout - such as the need for shoe holders in each prayer rug to avoid searching through 50,000 pairs of shoes after prayer, and that Americans and Germans always want to know how much the mosque cost.
The interior of the mosque was breathtaking in its beauty, size and opulence.
Next we headed for the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral, an interesting Art Deco building made of concrete and designed by a French architect in 1930. The cathedral is now used as an exhibition space. It was a very fun and unusual experience, particularly the climb to the roof!
In contrast to the constant concern for safety (or at least for being sued) in the UK and especially the USA, here there was just a guy who requested a coin for admission then waved us up a rickety set of wooden stairs, half rotting, in the cathedral's tower.
The climb was not for the faint of heart, but it was very fun being on the roof, with no handrails or any other barrier between you and death on the sidewalk below! It was very interesting to see the architecture up here and the views were great.
Another highlight of Casablanca was the market in the Old Town. Once again, we were completely ignored while the locals went about their business, and it was so interesting and enjoyable.