(No, Not Rick's Cafe!)
Driving along the Corniche in Casablanca, it is striking how much the Atlantic Ocean beach front could be my Atlantic Ocean beachfront. Only on the opposite, western side of the shoreline. From now on, I will always keep Joseph in mind when I gaze at the ocean from the New Jersey coast where I live. Joseph is a Berber guide we met who told me to always remember I had a brother standing on the shore across the Atlantic. All the Moroccans we met were warm, friendly and became your friend for life. The people we met were the most endearing feature of the country.
But Casablanca is more than just a beach town. After driving around the Corniche, a quick stop at United Nations Square will give you a glimpse of a lovely garden and some local atmosphere. Bring a few coins to pose with the colorful water carriers in their traditional costumes. Don’t actually drink their water.
Next, drive past the massive Royal Palace. The family is not usually here since they have many palaces all over the country. “It’s good to be King,” was a favorite saying of our guide. You are not allowed inside, but the property is impressive and the Imperial guards are worth seeing.
I saved the best for last. The tourist site the city is most proud of is the Hassan II Mosque, standing like a gigantic white palace teetering on the water. Named after the former King and built to honor his 60th birthday, it is the second largest Mosque in the world and one of the few that allows non-Muslims inside. It is capped off by the tallest minaret in the world from which Muslims are called to prayers five times each day. Ten thousand craftsmen, twenty five hundred workers took six years to build this place of worship and once you are inside, you’ll see why. Hassan II is light-filled and gorgeous. The huge prayer hall is visually stunning and your eye doesn’t begin to know where to look first. The light from dozens of Murano chandeliers bounces off of sparkling marble floors that are kept immaculately clean. Intricate tilework fills the halls and when you see the thousands of tiny pieces of mosaic tile you begin to understand how it took so many people to construct this wonder. It was worth it.
The hall is stadium-sized and the entire ceiling opens electronically so that prayers can be said with nothing but sky overhead. Muslims wash frequently as part of their rituals and there are two hammans—men and women pray separately—which are surrounded by arch after arch and filled with 41 fountains. Do not leave Casablanca without a visit.