Casablanca, Day 02 The Hassan II Mosque

Casablanca Travel Blog

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On day two, I pick up right where I left off, at the Scrap Market on the west side of the Old Medina.  Today I feel like enjoying wide open spaces… so I’m going to follow the western coastline… all the way to the end of the city…

 

Discovery 013: Derb Abdellah

 

On the west side of the old medina are a couple of “derbs” or neighborhoods that are sort of like “Old Medina Annexes”… they’ve got the Old Medina, gritty, bustling feel but they’re outside the city walls and the alleys are laid out in straight lines, rather than in random zigzags. 

 

The two main alleys in Derb Abdellah are lively strips that churn with life long after much of the rest of the city has gone to sleep at night… lined with a motley assortment of shops and cheap eateries.   Entering this neighbourhood from the nearby more upscale neighborhoods to the west, feels like you’re suddenly entering another world…

 

014: Derb Abdellah Side Alleys

 

The long, straight, very narrow side alleys of Derb Abdellah look like something out of a Charles Dicken’s novel… with layers of laundry strung out overhead--  even though many of these alleys never see the sun… Fascinating to explore, but I imagine not very nice to live especially considering the moisture and mildew factor.

  A glance into people’s houses will show you that indoor things are even more cramped and dingy…

 

Suddenly I reach a wide open area with a couple of half demolished buildings in the center… This was once another neighbourhood that must have been even more ghettoish than Derb Abdellah, which has now been demolished and people moved elsewhere… Perhaps Derb Abdellah will someday suffer the same fate--  so you’d better experience this unique place while you still can!

 

I follow the long, gritty market street back north… Behind me I hear cursing and the tinkling of broken glass as a couple of locals get into a traditional Old Medina brawl…

 

See you later, Old Medina… I’ll be back to indulge in your enchantments some other time…

 

015: The Hassan II Mosque

 

Just a few steps outside the grittiest, scruffiest neighborhoods of Casablanca stands a structure that certainly should have been on the “New Greatest Wonders of the World” shortlist:  the Hassan II Mosque.

  It’s the second largest mosque in the world and the tallest religious structure of any sort in the world.  It’s completely covered with intricate designs inside and out… a stunning sight. 

 

I’ve had the good fortune of living right close to this mosque and have been able to see it in all kinds of different ways… enveloped in a shroud of mist… lit up at nighttime… silhouetted at sunrise… churning with 100,000 worshippers at the Eid Kbir morning prayers… I still find I’m inspired by its grandeur.

 

Of course, it came with a hefty price tag, and all Moroccan families in the entire country were required to contribute to its construction… so locals tend to have mixed feelings about it…

 

It’s surrounded by the sea on three sides and an enormous square on the southside lined with gardens and columned walkways… It would be a very nice place to play some music--  but playing music near a mosque is not acceptable here in Morocco

 

So… I’ve “officially” added the Hassan II Mosque as Number 015 Place to Discover in Casablanca… But I still just getting started…

 

016: The Bourgogne Coast

 

West of the Mosque, there is a seawall and a rocky coastal strip with interesting diagonal rock formations jutting out from the sea.

  There’s a long open stretch--  popular for jogging, relaxing or taking pictures of the Mosque.  It would be a magnificent coastal strip if it weren’t for the garbage strewn about and the shifty characters that tend to linger about there…

 

One thing that’s nice to see here is the large number of women you see out walking and jogging…  older women--  even veiled-head-to-toe women… This is something that was very unthought of 15 years ago here in Morocco

 

017: El Hank Neighborhood

 

At the end of the Bourgogne coastal strip is a neighbourhood that looks quite out of place in this otherwise upscale section of the city:  a big cluster of boxy, cookie cut government project housing style apartment blocks…

 

In the middle it has a large, beautiful mosque and a little commercial circle.

 

 

It has a scruffy park where I decide to go ahead and have my first music session of the day.  The night watchman comes around to listen--  but I think, just because he’s bored…

 

            Music Spot 05: El Hank Park, Rating: **

            Quiet, but dirty, no shade and a rather unsafe feel to the neighborhood.

 

018: The Lighthouse

 

Across the street from El Hank is a little rocky peninsula with a lighthouse… It deserves to be counted as a discovery…

 

019: Ain Diab Beach

 

A little bit further is the first Westside beach--  Ain Diab beach.

  It get’s really crowded in the summer, and the surf is too rough for proper swimming, but it’s got a fun vibe to it and the rocky outcrops are fun to clamber around on too…

 

Across the street is another park where I sit down for another session…

 

            Music Spot 06: Ain Diab Park, Rating: ***

            Quiet and fairly safe, but not any shade

 

020: Islamic School

 

A little further up the coast, past an enormous construction project, is a beautiful white, green and gold mosque surrounded by an Islamic School funding by Saudi Arabian royalty.

  It’s a beautiful structure, and worth mentioning--  though I must say it’s a bit ironic that it happens to be right next to Casablanca’s nightclub district…

 

021: La Corniche

 

Next is “La Corniche”, Casablanca’s boardwalk, which has recently been spruced up with floorlights, gardens and new tiling.  On the right is the rocky shore with hotels, nightclubs and a couple of restaurants.  It’s a pleasant walk, but it lacks the energy and vibrancy of Agadir’s boardwalk with its big crowds and cacophony of live musicians playing in almost every café and restaurant.

 

In fact, much of La Corniche’s real estate is still undeveloped with a lot of empty lots. Still, it’s a very pleasant place for a stroll--  and another music session…

 

            Music Spot 07: La Corniche, Rating: ***

            Very classy and clean, but little shade…

 

Afterwards I stop for a glass of mixed fruit juice… which, to my surprise is the same price as fruit juice in town!

 

022: Hay Hassani Beach

 

After La Corniche, finally comes a long stretch of sandy coast… plenty of space to relax, swim, or jog… Not a lot of cafés or businesses along the street, and this stretch of beach clearly just caters to locals… still it’s a nice discovery--  and probably the best beach in Casablanca

 

023: Sidi Abderrahman Shrine

 

At the far end of Hay Hassani Beach is a jagged, rocky peninsula jutting out of the water.

  Perched on top is, what looks like a tiny little ancient village.  It’s actually Sidi Abderrahman Shrine--  the tomb of a saint and a pilgrimage site. 

 

This shrines are Morocco’s “no frills” tourism spots, folks go to relax it tiny little rooms, sip tea eat tagines and maybe get a henna tattoo--  definitely catering to the natives rather than foreign tourist…

 

Perched on the rocks overlooking the surf, a couple of guys ask me to play a few songs for them… so I add one last music session to my collection…

           

            Music Spot 08: Sidi Abderrahman, Rating: **

            Not really the place I’d typically play music--  only did it by request…

 

And so, I achieve my quest of hiking the shore to the west end of town.

  Back in 2008 I contined this hike for another 20 kilometers west--  and I’m definitely not going to repeat that today… I’m going to call it a day and continue this journey tomorrow.

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photo by: nathanphil