This past weekend, I went to Casablanca with a few friends. It was a bit of a surprising trip. Before coming over to Morocco, I had many of the same idyllic notions of Casablanca held in the US, mostly because of pop culture representations. In actuality, Casablanca struck me as a very industrial city, more fitting of its reputation as the economic capital of Morocco than of a place of mystery and romance. To be clear, it was still a great trip, and there are some incredibly beautiful parts of Casablanca, but it lacked the ancient feeling and vibrancy of Fez and Marrakesh, the two other large cities I have visited so far.
Morocco is truly a nation of contrasts, and Casablanca really drove this home. One of the main attractions of the city is the Hassan II Mosque, the third largest Mosque in existence (and the largest outside of Saudi Arabia). It is also one of very few Mosques in the world which allows non-Muslims inside. Wikipedia tells me it cost between $400 and $700 million USD, and it is an absolutely stunning structure, both inside and out. But, while walking from the Medina to the Mosque, you travel between a shiny, glassed in office building that would be comfortable in downtown Paris, and a poor neighborhood, where the children playing in the street had nothing but a few sticks and a deflated soccer ball to amuse themselves. It was a striking contrast between a beautiful symbol of modern Islam, and an area where residents probably subsist unimaginable little money.
The Mosque itself is an incredibly structure. It sits on the edge of the Atlantic, and its 210 meter tall Minaret can be seen between the white buildings of downtown Casablanca. The interior of the Mosque is humbling. The prayer hall is an enormous open space, and the intricacy of decorations on all sides is astonishing. And everything was done the hard way. Stone and plaster were carved into minute designs, often containing verses of the Koran. Walls and ceilings were painted using all natural dyes. And the Marble floor has embedded heating elements to keep those inside warm. Oh, and did I mention, the roof retracts to help ventilate the space.
One more small story about Casablanca. The traffic is absolutely insane. However, we didn’t see a single accident. My personal theory is that this is due to predictable insanity. As in, all drivers are insane. But in the same predictable fashion. So they all know what the others are going to do and avoid it. Or maybe there is an overworked, caffeine addicted, stressed out guardian angel somewhere cursing the city. Who knows. It certainly leads to excitement though.