casablanca, morocco: settling in & a walk to hassan ii mosque

Our first morning in Casablanca, Susan and I were up before 8:00, tossing on clothes to go in search of breakfast. At a cafe next door to our building, I had an espresso, yogurt with honey, and fresh squeezed orange juice.  Susan wasn’t sure what she was ordering, but she ended up with a glass of warm milk with what looked like instant coffee sprinkled on top; she stirred it but it still wasn’t coffee but more like lukewarm coffee-flavored milk. Moroccan men in the cafe were having the same thing.

Back in our Airbnb room, we showered and dressed and enjoyed the views of the satellite dishes of Casablanca from our outdoor patio.  Our Airbnb apartment was on the 7th floor of a building in Central Casablanca. The building was a bit derelict.  It had a beautiful outdoor patio, but it was too cold to use it most days.


view of Casablanca from our Airbnb


view of Hotel Prince de Paris from our Airbnb


our patio at our Airbnb


our patio at our Airbnb

Upstairs was a nice kitchen that wasn’t stocked with anything, brass Moroccan lamps, a sofa and TV but no other chairs. Downstairs were three bedrooms.  Mine had a heater but the other heater was in the hallway.  The two downstairs bathrooms had been renovated and were the highlights of the apartment. The outdoor patio was lined with plants left outside year round. Tall ceilings were edged in beautiful plasterwork.  My bedroom had floor-to-ceiling closets and cupboards.  The bed was cozy, or maybe I was just exhausted.

We headed out to walk to Hassan II Mosque, first stopping for cappuccino, orange juice and a croissant at Café de France on Place des Nations Unies, considered the real heart of Casablanca. Here, we sat outside and watched people bustling by.


Place des Nations Unies


Café de France

We began our walk along the wall of the Ancienne Médina, past shops selling leather goods, djellabas, curvaceous wall sconces with cool patterns, paintings, shoes and lanterns. As we continued our walk along Boulevard Mohammed Ben Almonades, major construction engulfed us, with earth movers, dishevelment, and roaring and clanking noise.  We had to walk on the road with cars and trucks because there were no walkways.


an official looking building

We found ourselves following a young couple, Hakima and Sufrin; Hakima was from a town near Casablanca and could speak some English. We followed them along the outer edge of the wall, or sqala, on the north side of the medina, facing the port. The sqala is a bastion, the last remains of Casablanca’s 18th century fortifications.  We picked our way over dirt, trash, construction debris, and through traffic.  It took forever to get to the mosque.

We stopped on the corniche east of the mosque for views of it perched atop a rocky foundation at the edge of the sea.


Hassan II Mosque

A couple told us to hurry across the sprawling plaza to the museum to buy tickets for the tour of the mosque. We made it there just in time for the 11:00 tour with an English-speaking tour guide. We removed our shoes and carried them in bright green cloth bags.

The mosque was built by the late King Hassan II to commemorate his 60th birthday. Built in six years from 1987-1993, it was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau.  The mosque echoes the verse from the Quran that states that God’s throne was built upon the water. The 210m minaret is the tallest building in the country and the tallest minaret in the world. It’s topped by a laser beam that shines toward Mecca.  It’s the third largest mosque after two in Saudi Arabia, accommodating 25,000 worshipers inside and a further 80,000 in the courtyards and squares around it. It also has a retractable roof, as well as an enormous glass floor suspended over the sea for prayer by royals only.

King Hassan II was King of Morocco from 1961 until his death in 1999. Hassan was known to be one of the most severe rulers of Morocco, widely accused of authoritarian practices and of being an autocrat and a dictator, particularly during the Years of Lead, a period of King Hassan’s rule from roughly the 1960s through the 1980s, marked by state violence and repression against political dissidents and democracy activists. I just finished reading the memoir by Malika Oufkir, Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail.  Here is my review of the book:

At the beginning of this memoir by Malika Oufkir, it was hard to feel much sympathy for her, adopted as she was into the household of King Muhammad V of Morocco. The king wanted her in the household as playmate to his favorite daughter, Lalla Mina, so she lived in the palace in luxury, removed from her family from 1958-1969. When King Muhammad died in 1961, and Hassan II became king, Malika continued to stay on in the palace. She finally returned to her birth home in 1969, and stayed with her family until 1972, when her father attempted a coup d’etat against King Hassan II. Malika’s father was executed and her whole family was taken away first to the Assa Oasis from 1972-1973, then to Tamattaght from 1973-1977, and finally to the horrid Bir-Jdid Prison for 10 years, from 1977-1987.

It was important to have Malika’s life in context; she was stripped slowly of all her human rights, after having lived a childhood of luxury and pampering. The family clung together, celebrated birthdays, and tried to make their lives bearable especially during their 10 year incarceration in Bir-Jdid Prison. They learned firsthand of hunger, squalor, disease and boredom. Several members of the family tried to commit suicide and went on hunger strikes.

Eventually, four of the children (who had grown into adulthood by this time) – Malika, Raouf, Abdellatif, and Maria – escaped by digging a tunnel out of the prison, only to be captured in Rabat several days later. By then, Malika, who certainly had her wits about her during the entire debacle, had contacted journalists and lawyers in France. The rest of the family, Malika’s mother and two other sisters, Myriam and Soukaina, as well as Achoura Chenna, the mother’s first cousin, and Halima, the younger sister of Abdellatif’s governess, were released from Bir-Jdid Prison and joined the four who had escaped in Marrakech. Slowly – even though they were still imprisoned under house arrest in Marrakech for three more long years – the family saw public opinion turn against the king. Eventually, Malika would leave Morocco, after her sister Maria escaped from Morocco by sea.  International pressure forced the king to issue passports to the rest of the family.

This was an excellent account of the horrors endured by this family, one of many “disappeared” political prisoners.

The vast prayer hall has amazing wood carving, zellij (tilework), and ornate stucco molding. A team of 6,000 master craftsmen carved intricate patterns and designs in cedar from the Middle Atlas, marble from Agadir, and granite from Tafraoute.

In the basement are mushroom-shaped fountains used for ablutions in a sprawling room with a forest of pillars. Called a wudu, this is where Muslims wash their hands, forearms, face and feet before they pray.

When we walked out of the mosque, it had been raining and was still sprinkling a bit.  My shoes and socks got soaked because the marble underfoot didn’t absorb the water.

We walked through the museum focused on the glass, zellij, calligraphy, stucco, and woodcarving that went into the mosque.  Plaster or stucco is called “Al Gabs.”  It has been used in Moroccan architecture since the 12th century.

We left the mosque and walked a bit west to see a wall mural that had a Mexican feel to it.


view of the mosque from across the plaza


wall mural

Then we caught a petit taxi to Rick’s Cafe.  We were hungry for lunch!

*Saturday, April 6*

*22,132 steps, or 9.38 miles* (total)


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose. One of my intentions was to write using my five senses, which I still struggle with, but tried to incorporate here.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, January 13 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, January 14, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂

Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself.