The last stop on our journey through Morocco was Casablanca. Beverley and I arrived by train from Marrakech, eager to compare Casablanca’s modern reality to that romantic black-and-white version so many people still imagine of it.
After a brief shopping excursion through the narrow and crooked alleys of Casablanca’s old and new Medina districts (which are much younger—dating only to the 1800s, and substantially smaller and less intimidating than those in Fez and Marrakech), we headed to the Hassan II Mosque—which, with its minaret thrusting 689 feet high, is the city’s most prominent landmark. Atop the tower, a laser beam travels 18.6 miles, pointing toward Mecca.
Reputedly (but arguably) the world’s second largest mosque next to Mecca—and the biggest in Africa— this elaborate building, completed in 1993, can host up to 105,000 followers (25,000 in the prayer hall and 80,000 outside). Unlike most mosques, access is provided to non-Muslims and tours are conducted in several languages.
Built according to beliefs expressed by the Quran, that God’s throne was built upon water, this colossal building was constructed on a promontory that protrudes into the Atlantic. Worshippers can watch the ocean waves crashing ashore through a glass floor in the lower level.
We admired the majestic architecture of this great hall of worship, and the dedicated workmanship that took a team of 6,000 master stonemasons and carpenters six years to complete. From its heated prayer floor to its gilded wooden ceilings—carved from cedar from the Middle Atlas Mountains—to its ornate marble floors, colorful terracotta tilework, and 45 lotus-shaped fountains in its underground ablution halls (where followers conduct ritual cleansings prior to worship), the entire structure presents as a masterful work of art. A 200-foot-high retractable roof allows sunlight to flood the hall during daytime hours and allows worshippers to pray under starry skies at night.
After our tour, Beverley and I strolled the ocean-view promenade leading from the mosque toward the city center, running alongside a busy ten-lane boulevard. We shared the path with joggers, bicyclists, scooters, and fishermen, as mighty whitecaps crashed against the rocks below us, and a cool ocean breeze gently swept through our hair. As we looked back at the world’s tallest minaret, with the expanse of the ocean beside us, we felt like, well…a hill of beans.
We ended our day at La Sqala, a garden restaurant situated on storied grounds concealing the 18th-century remnants of Casablanca’s portside fortifications. Unbeknownst to many diners, hidden behind the restaurant’s unassuming stone walls is a raised promenade that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Those with keen eyes can observe battle scars on these storied reddish-yellow stone walls – many attributed to enemy gunfire sustained during WWII. Although their open concept dining allows for stray cats to beg tableside, the restaurant offers great food and service, and otherwise comfortable dining, at very affordable prices. Chicken kabob plates are $6.50, with many beef and seafood options also available.
Although we planned to continue exploring Casablanca, as well as the nearby coastal community of Essaouira, a location beloved by many expats, before flying from Casablanca to Lisbon to return home for a Christmas sojourn, our plans were scuttled. Morocco’s King acted swiftly upon learning of the Omicron variant and ordered all air traffic to be suspended for an indefinite time. Beverley and I were forced to end our journey ahead of schedule to take the last plane out of Morocco, lest risk abandoning the rest of our travel itinerary.
We look forward to returning to Morocco one day soon to continue our journey. Because if we don’t, I know we’ll surely regret it.
David Gibb is a retired private detective exploring Europe and Latin America with his wife, Beverly. Together, they set off in search of a personal retirement paradise where they can live, as the saying goes, happily ever after. They’ve toured Portugal, Spain, the English-speaking enclave of Gibraltar, and crossed the Mediterranean to Morocco. Check out his other articles below:
- Is Morocco A Retirement Destination?
- Our “Marrakech Express”: A Three-Day Trek Through
- Searching For Paradise In Fez, Morocco
- Exploring Morocco’s “Red City”: An Oasis In The Desert
Next up, he’s heading back across the Atlantic to investigate retirement havens in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Look out for his latest updates at: Gumshoe in Paradise.