Saturday, July 27, 2013

Despite What Your Guidebook Might Say You Cannot View the Atlantic Ocean Through a Glass Floor at the Hassan II Mosque [Guest Post]

GUEST POSTER in residence: Justin

Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque is one of the few active Muslim religious sites in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims, albeit only on a guided (paid) tour. It is a breathtaking and impressive building, and one of the largest mosques in the world (our guidebooks disagree about where exactly it ranks – one says it is the second largest, another agrees with the guide from our tour that it is third, a third book states that it is the fifth, and Wikipedia asserts that it is seventh largest mosque – the point is that it is big, and everyone is on the same page about that). The Hassan II Mosque is large enough to accommodate 25,000 worshippers, but according to our guide, only about 600 people typically attend, not including during Ramadan or for Friday mid-day prayers.

We had admired the exterior during a previous visit to Casablanca, and on our most recent trip decided to splurge for the tour. It isn’t terribly expensive if one is traveling on a US salary, but the 120 Dirham (about USD 14) per person fee can feel pretty hefty, considering that entry to most monuments and museums in Morocco costs no more than 20 Dirhams (about USD 2.40). According to our guide the money goes towards upkeep and salaries for the staff, making the Hassan II Mosque self-sustaining. Note to other Peace Corps Morocco Volunteers: As residents we get a 50% discount off the usual price (bring your Moroccan ID), which was a pleasant surprise for us.

The Hassan II Mosque has no historical significance, having been built in the late 20th century. While some might consider it a poor allocation of funds (public subscription, which Rough Guide characterizes as having been “not entirely voluntary,” covered much of the construction costs), it certainly is beautiful. And if, as our guide claimed, Hassan II’s goal was to attract visitors to Casablanca, a city otherwise holding little of interest for most tourists, he seems to have at least somewhat succeeded. There were plenty of people on our tour, and aside from the tour itself I’m sure most at least spent money to eat in Casablanca even if they did not stay there, which at least somewhat undermines potential cost-to-the-public grievances.

As a caveat for potential future visitors, two of our guidebooks claim that the Hassan II Mosque, which sits partially on a pier over the Atlantic Ocean, has a glass floor through which one can see the waves. But while the prayer hall floor has a couple of small glass segments, the only thing one can see through them is an ablutions room (also part of the tour) downstairs. I asked our guide if she had any idea of from where the misinformation in the books might have originated; she said that there is a separate (private) royal section (she called it a palace, but I am guessing it is something more analogous to the private chapels found in many churches), and that in this royal area the Atlantic Ocean is visible through a glass floor.

Even though some of our photos did not come out great due to lighting, they will speak to the beauty of the Hassan II Mosque better than (my) words would:

One of the entrances.
The prayer hall.
A beautiful light fixture.
Pretty much every surface is covered in elaborate decoration; this section
of carved and painted wood was well-lit enough for a good picture.
The mosque has a hammam (traditional bath) in the basement.
It serves no religious purpose and has never been used.
Hopefully they change the water from time to time anyway.
Another entrance.
Detail from the metalwork on the door.

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