Wednesday, January 29, 2014

89. Next stop - Casablanca

After four weeks in Marrakech it was time to move on - but before heading across the seas next week to my next destination - I decided to visit Casablanca for a brief stay ...

Casa is on the Atlantic Coast - a very fast 3 hour train journey gets me there - and then after a brief taxi ride I'm settled into my apartment ...

..." all abord the Marrakech Express" ...

With only six days here and quite a bit to explore, I'm up early on day one and set off on a 5km walk to visit the famed Hassan II Mosque ... which is open to the public for guided tours at certain hours each day of the week ...


The Grande Mosquée Hassan II is the largest mosque in the country and the 7th largest in the world, covering a land area of 22 acres. Its minaret is the world's tallest at 210 metres – it is 60 stories high topped by a laser, the light from which is directed towards Mecca. 

The mosque is surrounded on 3 sides with a huge marble-paved plaza ...

the mosque stands on a man-made promontory looking west out to the Atlantic Ocean

Construction work started on July 12, 1986, and was completed seven-years later in 1993. The mosque rises above the Atlantic Ocean - built partially on land and partially over the ocean. This siting was accomplished by creating a platform linking a natural rock outcrop reclaimed from the sea. Two large breakwaters were also built, to protect the mosque from the erosive action of the ocean waves, which can be up to 10 metres (33 ft) in height.

collanades of marble leads the faithful to the doors of the mosque




During the most intense period of construction, 1400 men worked during the day and another 1100 during the night. 10,000 artists and craftsmen participated in building and beautifying the mosque.




The massive external doors - titanium coated to prevent rusting from the corrosive salt airand weighing in at 10 tons - are electrically operated.




The building dimensions are 200 metres (660 ft) in length and 100 metres (330 ft) in width. All of the granite, marble, plaster, wood and other materials used in the construction, were extracted from around Morocco, with the exception of some Italian white granite columns and 56 glass chandeliers from Venice. 


The historical context of the mosque began with the death of King Mohammed V in 1961. King Hassan II had requested for the best of the country's artisans to come forward and submit plans for a mausoleum to honour the departed king. “I wish Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud until the end of time ... I want to build this mosque on the water, because God's throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God's sky and ocean.”


Six thousand traditional Moroccan artisans worked for five years to create the abundant and beautiful mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, sculpted plaster moldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings.



The construction costs, estimated to be about 585 million Euro ( about Aust$900 million ), were an issue of debate in Morocco, a poor country. While Hassan wished to build a mosque which would be second in size only to the mosque at Mecca, the government lacked funds for such a grand project. Much of the financing was by public subscription. Every Moroccan family was forced to pay a set amount, enforced by the police, to finance construction.  Another issue was the displacement of slum dwellers who lived in the vicinity of the mosque. Twelve million people donated to the cause, with a receipt and certificate given to every donor.


The prayer hall is on the ground floor. The central hall is centrally heated through the marbled floor, the decorations in the hall are elaborate and exquisite - made possible by involving 6000 master artisans of Morocco working on it. It is so large that it can easily accommodate the house of the Notre Dame of Paris or St Peter’s of Rome..


A maximum of 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer: 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosque's outside grounds.



56 Chandaleurs from Venice ...


The roof is retractable, illuminating the hall with daytime sunlight and allowing worshippers to pray under the stars on clear nights. It weighs 1100 tons and can be opened in five minutes.



In keeping with Islamic custom - women are not allowed to worhip with the men on the ground floor - so they have their area on the mezzanine floor - screend off by lattice so the men below will not be distracted during prayers ... the women also have their own entrance off to the side of the Mosque ... 


mezzanine floor for women worhippers ...



The ablution room and a vast public hammam are in the basement, with its own entrance - this area is used by the men for the ritual ablutions before prayers  A plastering technique which adds egg yolks and black soap into mixed plaster, was used in the hammam baths to prevent mould growing in the area.


forty six fountains gushing fresh water for the men to wash 




the hammam baths 




after all that - it's back out into the refreshing sunlight of the plaza ...


Restoration works ...

Structural deterioration in the concrete wall was observed ten years after the mosque's completion. This was explained as being due to exposure to the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean, into which nearly half of the mosque’s foundation projects. Salt water migrating into the porous concrete caused the rusting of the rebar steel reinforcements resulting in expansion of the steel and causing cracking of concrete. Salt water had penetrated beyond the steel bar also into the structures.

Effective restoration works were instituted in April 2005.  The  work was done at a cost of 50 million Euros ( approx Aust $75 million ) - that's bringing the total bill close to Aust $1,000 million !!!!

A very sobering thought as I headed home through the slums of this city feeling guilty that I could not possibly donate to each of the the dozens of beggars asking for alms as I walk past ...

After four weeks of breathing the dust of Marrakech,
it sure is nice to have salt air blowing off the Atlantic filtering into my lungs ...



We'll go somewhere a little less extravagant next posting ...