There comes a disappointment for many who travel to Muslim countries and find amazing architecture:
Most of these spectacular structures, they can’t enter. The most beautiful buildings I have seen so far in Morocco have been the grand palaces, mosques, or other religious buildings. And as such, they are reserved as a place for worship, not tourism, and non-Muslims either can’t enter, or would be running in to find they are being very rude and interrupting something.
So non-Muslim foreigners are reduced to admiration from the outside and nothing but that lingering curiosity and wonder as to what it could be like on the inside.
The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is one of the many exceptions, and we got the opportunity to see what was hiding within.
Hassan II is a spectacle to behold. And, outside of prayer times, it offers tours of the inside! We were most definitely in luck.
First of all, it is MASSIVE. It has the third tallest minaret in the Arab world, only exceeded by two in Saudi Arabia. It is constructed of marble with beautiful designs, turquoise color, and the horseshoe arches typical of the Arab world for every entrance. As for the location? Right on the water, so you are getting some nice Atlantic breezes while simultaneously admiring this place.
One feels incredibly humbled standing before the mosque, not just because of its size but also by its beauty and sacredness in the eyes of its people. Many people assume that it is ancient, when actually, it’s only 20 years old!
Construction began in the 80’s and was completed in 1993, and was named after Hassan II who was king at the time. He was the father of Mohammed VI, who has been the new king since 1999. The $400-$700 million cost for construction was funded for completely by people, something for which they are incredibly proud of and will not hesitate to tell you.
At the huge iron doors that mark the entrance into the mosque, everyone was required to put little plastic slipper-bags over their shoes, in order to ensure cleanliness, which is of high importance in a mosque and in the religion of Islam. Muslims always remove their shoes before entering and must wash their face and arms each time before beginning prayer.
And so I slipped the little plastic baggies over my shoes, and stepped forward (with my right foot of course) into a whole new world.
The outside my have been spectacular, but the cavern awaiting within was something else. The only other experience where I have been that blown away by architecture, design, and detail would be walking into the great cathedral of Toledo, Spain. That people managed to create such an impressive structure in only ten years is just mind-blowing.
A tour guide may have been giving facts and details about this wonderful place, but I hardly heard any of it. I was too busy looking up and around in awe at this place. At the high arches, the columns, the minute details and carvings, the classical Arabic script all over the walls.
One of the interesting facts that I did catch, however, was that this ceiling made of gold is actually movable. In just a few seconds, it can open up to let the sunlight come streaming in.
Being able to tour a mosque, especially Hassan II, and see how incredible it looked from the inside was an amazing experience – one that is not too widespread, and should definitely not be missed.