The Spectacular Hassan II Mosque.
Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca.
Cover photo courtesy of Smartyzs.
In the autumn of 2008 I had just gotten married to my first wife, S. Try as I might, I cannot recall how we settled on the idea of Morocco for our honeymoon. But I do remember insisting on spending some time in Casablanca. It might sound silly, but I’ve always been huge fan of the eponymous Oscar-winning movie. Silly because… well… none of the picture was actually filmed in Morocco. Rather, director Michael Curtiz shot the entire flick at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California.
However, my enthusiasm for a visit to Casablanca rose when I read about an exceptional restaurant that pays homage to the film. In fact, Rick’s Cafe is a recreation of the famous bar from the movie. Complete with curved arches, balcony tables and an in-house piano player who knows how to play that tune. Thus we booked four nights in Casablanca to kick off what would be an action-packed two-week adventure across the country.
“There’s nothing to see in Casablanca”, a misinformed Australian backpacker once told me. Right enough, the Moroccan city with the famous name is generally considered inferior to the likes of Marrakech, Fez and Chefchaouen. Nevertheless, I did my research and drew up a hit list of Casablanca’s alleged must-sees. To kick things off, we headed to none other than Hassan II Mosque, the largest functioning mosque in Africa.
Hassan II Mosque.
The weather was sublime that day, with comfortable temperatures and the bluest of blue skies. Situated atop a bluff overlooking The Atlantic Ocean, the mosque enjoys an incredible location. Indeed I had to catch my breath as I made the long approach through the vast boulevard that leads to the main entrance.
Construction of this gorgeous building began in 1986 under the guidance of King Hassan II. Hence the name. Determined to create one of the world’s great mosques, he handpicked the renowned French architect Michel Pinseau to design the place. The project took seven years to come to completion. Much of the funding came out of the king’s own pocket, though public donations also played a key part. Those in the know reckon the final bill came to around 585 million Euros!
For a while we were quite content absorbing the magnificent exterior. Even to an architecture simpleton such as myself it felt like a masterclass in simplicity. A clever blending of traditional Islamic elements and the modern flourishes King Hassan craved in order to keep the city moving forward in the 21st century. Strolling through the outer corridors, I found myself admiring the cream marble pillars with their flowery mosaic feet.
Next, I spent an unreasonable amount of time simply gazing up at the mosque’s marvellous 210-metre minaret. Comprised of 60 stories, King Hassan chose the colour scheme of sea green and God’s blue as celebratory representations of a king’s life. Elsewhere, a laser spotlight sits on the top. Electronically operated, it comes on every evening and shines east towards Mecca.
At the time of my visit the minaret was the world’s tallest. Though I see it has since slipped into second place behind the one at The Great Mosque of Algiers. I guess Algeria should celebrate while they can, as someone is sure to build a taller minaret before too long.
Unfortunately, a guided tour was necessary to access the interior. But of course we took it without hesitation. Thankful for the fact that, unlike many of Morocco’s great mosques, getting inside was even a possibility. Joining a sizeable group, we all took off our shoes. Women also made sure to cover their heads, knees and shoulders. Our guide meanwhile, a heavily pregnant local woman, did a great job of keeping everyone in check and answering our many questions.
The prayer hall was the highlight, a colossal space that can hold up to 25000 worshippers. Imagine how, back in the late 1980s, a team of 6000 workers crafted the hall using materials mainly sourced from within Morocco itself.
There was granite from the Atlas Mountain town of Tafraoute. The finest marble from the Atlantic Ocean city of Agadir. The glass for the chandeliers, however, came from abroad. King Hassan, wanting nothing but the best for his new mosque, demanded that the glass arrived custom made from Murano Island in Italy.
Hassan II Mosque.
Most impressive of all, to me at least, was the wondrous ceiling, a series of intricately carved painted cedar wood panels. Oh, and how about this, the roof is fully retractable and can open in just under five minutes! How I would have loved to see that.
Finally, we got a look inside one of the mosque’s atmospheric hammams. This gorgeous underground bathhouse was one of several onsite and had numerous baths, shower rooms and scrub areas. I particularly liked the elegant, marble-carved lotus flower fountains.
Back in 2008 these hammams were strictly for Moroccans. Therefore I made do with a brief rest on one of the cool stone benches where I could breathe in the minty air. Later, in 2019, the Moroccan government constructed additional bathhouses, some of which now welcome overseas guests. This would definitely be on my list should I ever make it back to Casablanca.
My Casablanca trip had gotten off to a great start. The city’s grand mosque was spectacular and evening was fast approaching. Needless to say, we had reserved a table at Rick’s Cafe for our first Casablanca dinner. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure if Rick’s would live up to my high expectations. But if the evening turned out to be half as impressive as the mosque, I’d have few complaints.
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a spectacular building indeed, how opulent to come here and take a bath. i didn’t realise the world of minaret construction was so competitive, some clever dick is probably already working on the next new highest. eagerly anticipating your article on ricks cafe – you are preaching to the converted here with regards to casablanca and bogie.
Ah Stan, I’m so excited to share my experience at Rick’s Cafe, it’s such a lovingly crafted space and the food and service justifies the hype. As for the mosque, it is an exquisite work of art, even if one can’t help but wonder if all that money could have been spent on… err… something else. I love the idea of “minaret wars”.
Such an intriguing and beguiling place Leighton. The architecture is indeed divine in its repetition and patterns and I can see how it could lull one into contemplation. The closest we ever got to a similar culture would have been our brief stop in Kuşadası, Turkey. We saw the Grand Bazaar and a few minarets but that is it. Looking forward to hearing more about your visit. Happy Sunday. Allan
Thanks Allan, it was quite an experience, albeit a bit pricy with the guided tour setup. Got to get some of that 500 + million back some way I guess. Haven’t been (or indeed heard of) Kuşadası, will have a peek online. Curiously, I see that we are not all that far from it right now as I type this from the Greek island of Naxos. Hope you had a good weekend.
Brings back so many memories! Such a beautiful place. I thought the outside was amazing and then I went inside!! 😱😳 Interestingly I didn’t have to cover my head when I visited in 2020.
Glad you also enjoyed your visit to Hassan II Mosque. That’s fortunate (I guess) that they weren’t so stringent with the rules. I wonder if there has been a general relaxation of the rules or you just got lucky that day. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Very impressive mosque. There’s so much to love about Morocco, it remains one of our favourite destinations and I’m pretty sure we’ll be returning. Our only call at Casablanca was to get a connecting flight, which doesn’t count….but we have been to the three source places you mentioned – Murano, Tafraout and Agadir. Tafraout was a great location. Not sure I realised you’d been married before, by the way!
Ha ha, I slipped that revelation in there I guess. Like you I got mainly positive vibes from Morocco and would be open to seeing more one day. Casablanca’s delights are, I would say, somewhat understated. Still, I really enjoyed my days there, especially the dinner at Rick’s detailed in the next piece. Cheers!
Nothing to see in Casablanca … well, what do you call Hassan II Mosque then? I would say it’s a pretty impressive building (the inside is just spectacular)! From your post, it seems only the best materials were used to build this mosque. Looking forward to read about your experience at Rick’s Cafe.
Hey Corna, glad you appreciated the look and feel of Hassan II Mosque. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you throw a **** load of money at something isn’t it, ha ha. I’m excited to share Rick’s with you, it was one of my all-time favourite restaurant experiences. Until Wednesday…
Ah, Morocco. Somehow it still eludes me. This is undoubtedly an extravagant and palatial mosque. It is wonderful that the hammams are now open to foreign guests as well. That would be an amazing experience. Looking forward to reading about your visit to Rick’s Cafe.
Hey Anoush, thanks for checking in to read about Hassan II Mosque. I agree that a bath there would be quite an experience, maybe next time if I ever make it back. Hope you manage to visit Morocco someday, so much to see, so little time.
Well I guess the person that said there was nothing to see doesn’t like beautiful architecture! What a gorgeous building and I find I’m drawn to a beautiful ceiling. This one looks incredible. I also didn’t realize you were married before. Maggie
That ceiling was really something else. 2023 Leighton would take about 10 shots of it from various angles. 2008 Leighton grabbed one. Epic fail. They say sometimes it takes a long time to find the right person to spend the rest of your life with. That was definitely the case for me. Thanks for reading Maggie!
Yep, I was 40 when Richard and I got married.
Wow, Leighton! I’ve always said it’s hard to wrap my head around the opulence of the European cathedrals, but Hassan II Mosque is right up there with them! I don’t know a lot about Morocco, but this mosque would definitely be on my list if I were to visit. You always surprise me with where you are next, so I can’t wait to see more of Morocco through your eyes.
Thanks for your enthusiasm Kellye, as always. Morocco was a short adventure by my standards, just a few weeks. But I really enjoyed all of it from start to finish. Visiting Hassan II Mosque was a decent way to kick off the trip. See you at Rick’s on Wednesday 😉
Funny that an Australian said, “There’s nothing to see.” I had the exact same thing said to me by another Auzie after I had just entered an eight kilometre huge lava tube on Jeju Island where we were permitted to walk inside for a kilometre! I guess there was no beach.
Ha ha, you made ma laugh there, Mallee. What can I say, just don’t understand some people. This kind of thing has happened numerous times over the years, though not always with an Australian 😉 It’s gotten to the point where if I hear it I assume the place is question is almost certainly worth going to.
Morocco is a vibrant country to visit. Casablanca is not something I personally enjoyed. The mosque is of course a must see, it’s so opulent you can’t believe your eyes, surrounded by India level slums. Locals live in conditions that made my heart cry, it’s so unfair to build a billion dollar mosque that is not a functional mosque but a museum with $17 dollar fee to get in when Moroccans living nearby are in need of clean water. ‘There’s nothing to see’ means there is not much to see that will make you happy or make you feel like you are doing the right thing.
Hey Milena, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. What a pity that you went to Casablanca and found little to enjoy. I agree that the amount of money pumped into Hassan II Mosque is scandalous when you look at how much people are struggling. This kind of thing isn’t purely a Casablanca problem of course, it’s something that exists all over the world. The person I was speaking to about the city quite literally meant: “There is nothing much in Casablanca, it is not worth going to”. Here are a list of things that made me happy in Casablanca and made me feel like I was doing the right thing: 1: Learning about the chequered history of Casablanca Cathedral and climbing the tower for views across the city. 2: Chatting with locals and learning a few Moroccan phrases on Place Mohammed V 3: Strolling through the various markets and supporting local traders by buying fruit and olives 4: Finding pre-colonial buildings in the Medina 5: Enjoying the food scene in places like Rick’s Cafe (one of my all-time favourite restaurants) and Cafe Maure. I could go on, but this comment is getting a little too long. Have a great week ahead!
Thank you! I loved those as well especially chatting with the locals and buying stuff at the medina. We strolled along the waterfront on paved promenade at night and ate snails. It was quite an experience!
Stunning mosque, Leighton. You always take us interesting places, and clearly misunderstood places judging by that Australian guy’s comment. Must be a somewhat bittersweet memory for you. I love the movie Casablanca and movie themed cafes. So, looking forward to the next one.
Amelie! It’s great to have you back, I’m glad you enjoyed my piece on Hassan II Mosque. I definitely feel Casablanca is a bit misunderstood, as I’ve read quite a few blogs that describe the city as missable. People say that about Bangkok too, a city I really love. I think enough time has passed that I can now look back on this trip without any bittersweet feelings. It was such a long time ago and so much has happened in my life since then. Plus, I have since found the person I was truly meant to be with. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I always value your contributions to the comment threads.
Wow that mosque is truly stunning isn’t it, I’d have spent far too long staring up at the Minaret as well! I keep meaning to tag along with my husband to Morocco as he goes there 3 times a year with work, but haven’t managed to make it work yet – I really must rectify that in 2023!!
Three times a year eh? You are bound to make it work at some point. While I think Casablanca was the least impressive of the three Moroccan cities I visited, I still think it’s well worth a few days. Hope you find some more things to whet your appetite in the coming articles. Thanks for reading Hannah!
I prefer the exterior of the mosques I visited in Istanbul, but the interior of Hassan II Mosque totally blew my socks off! Spectacular indeed. I never knew mosques had baths. It must be neat to attend service and then enjoy the baths. Your post has opened my eyes about what a mosque could be.
I’m with you on the facades of Turkish mosques, it’s hard to compete with those babies in Istanbul. Thanks for stopping by John, I’m glad the bath aspect of this piece was enlightening.
Never made it to Casablanca, as like the Aussie backpacker had stated, I’d assumed that the city would be underwhelming compared to Fez, Marrakesh, and Chefchaouen. How wrong I was, based on youf post! The Hassan II Mosque is the reason worth going to Casablanca with its golden interior. One of these days, I’ll have to go back!
Casablanca is probably more understated than the other places you mentioned (though I’ve only been to Marrakesh from those three). As such, many do find it underwhelming, though I certainly didn’t. Hassan II Mosque is definitely a solid reason in the case for the defence. Add to that dinner at Rick’s and the Cool Spots I’ll be covering in my final piece and yeah, I’d definitely try to put a couple of days aside for Casablanca if you ever make it back. If I return to Morocco, both Fez and Chefchaouen will be firmly on my list. Thanks, Rebecca!
I only spent one night in Casablanca when I did my North Morocco trip organised by Intrepid Travel and I didn’t make it to visit the inside of the mosque! It is indeed a wonderful construction. I did manage to see it from the outside, but the weather was overcast and I believe the mosque might have been closed…not too sure right now! Casablanca will remain forever marked in my memory as it was the first time I witnessed real poverty right next to me. The sad truth is that the richness of that mosque contrasts heavily with the poverty surrounding it, a reality that I got accustomed to see in Morocco. Thank you for sharing these photos, it really does look wonderful!
The first time you witness poverty is a biggie, I know. For me it was in India and it was absolutely everywhere. Some of the horrible things I saw on that trip have stayed with me and will stay with me forever. It’s strange, because while I did see some poverty throughout my Morocco trip, somehow that hasn’t stayed with me as much. Not sure if that’s because I felt it paled in comparison to the India stuff. Or if I just managed to compartmentalise it. Thanks for checking this piece out Nic, Hassan II Mosque is a wonderful building but you are right to acknowledge the sad truth, it is inescapable.
It was only in Casablanca and because we got off the beaten track. Every other place I was in Morocco there was poverty but not at that level I saw in Casablanca. These things do leave a mark, but I think that is really important for us to witness it, part of the experience of the world. It puts a lot of things into perspective!
Wow those pictures are absolutely stunning, that blue of the sky is the perfect backdrop. In college the very questionable bar was called Rick’s American Cafe so that gave me a laugh.
Yeah, on a blue sky day the mosque really comes into its own. I’m curious, how was college bar Rick’s “questionable”? Dare I ask.
I agree it is a spectacular building by the sea. I can understand why a king would want his name to be associated with such a work. We have to be satisfied with more modest works.
Ha, I think generally we are satisfied with more modest works. At least, I speak for myself. But we are also suckers for lavish beauty, which is where we perhaps fall down a bit as a society. I certainly hope those who run the mosque donate some of the entry fee money to Moroccan charities that really need it.
Wow that mosque is simply magnificent! A place I would love to see. Morocco has been in my mind lately…. Along with another 10/15 countries! Lol.
It’s hard to prioritise isn’t it? Morocco is a country I would love to go back to, chiefly because of how much people rave about Fez and Chefchaouen. But yes, so many countries and somehow the ones you haven’t been to always appeal more. Cheers, Anna.
There is beauty to see in every place if you look through miracle eyes! Especially people who can teach you so much. The amazing thing about the building is that although modern it maintains traditional perspectives. If I go to Morocco again I mosque go there for sure!
Miracle eyes indeed, Geoff. I think I have them most of the time, or at least one ha ha. Glad you enjoyed this look at Hassan II Mosque, I hope your 2023 is unfolding well!
What a coincidence, we were in Casablanca just last week and saw this amazingly, beautiful mosque. Sadly, we could not go inside, so it was a treat to see you photos of the interior. Did you visit Rabat? We found this city to be very beautiful. I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience at Rick’s Cafe. Great post, Leighton!
Oh wow Tricia, a coincidence indeed! What did you think of Casablanca generally? Nothing to see? Or were you charmed? I haven’t been to Rabat sadly but am happy to hear it got your stamp of approval. It’s on the list along with so many other places should I ever go back to Morocco.
I wouldn’t say I was charmed, but there were lots of families out and about, and activity in general which made it feel warm and welcoming. If we ever get to return, I would like to see more.
I’ve not visited Morocco but would be interested to do so someday. The mosque and its hammans are magnificent Leighton. I’m always in awe of the beauty of mosques I’ve explored around the world.
Me too, I’ve nearly always been charmed by the mosques I’ve seen around the world, particularly in Istanbul. In fact, we saw an absolute beauty in Yerevan a few weeks back, one of the city’s oldest buildings and a testament to its Iranian heritage. Thanks for reading Marion.
wow, this mosque is probably the most beautiful building I have ever seen. The exteriors are incredible but the detail on the inside could blow me over. I would love to visit Morocco and spend an entire day just adoring the architecture at this mosque 🙂
I’m glad Hassan II Mosque gets the Meg seal of approval. It is quite a sight, both inside and out. And a reminder, I think, that sometimes simplicity can be the key. I hope you and the family are well Meg, can you believe it’s almost February?
I agree with that, real beauty comes in simplicity and not in the over the top exuberance. January seems to have taken forever to get through. I feel a little like Bill Murray in Groundshogs Day. I hope all is well with you too 🙂
Thank you Leighton. This was a pleasure to read, and what an absolutely beautiful mosque! Thank you for the history. It looks like a dream place to visit.
Hey Stephanie, thanks for reading, liking, commenting and indeed for following Leighton Travels. I’m glad you enjoyed this look at Hassan II Mosque and hope you enjoy plenty more content from across Morocco in the coming weeks. Cheers!
Thank You Leighton. That is very kind of you indeed. I look forward to following your travels!
Of course, Algeria had to build a taller minaret! Competition and enmity between these two neighboring countries are sometimes too difficult to understand. Hassan II Mosque is indeed what I most want to see in Casablanca. Its architecture is distinctively Moroccan and so different from any other mosques I’ve seen in my part of the world. I wonder why back then the hammams were strictly for Moroccans. And I also wonder how different or similar it is from the hammams in Turkey — which I only marginally enjoyed.
I know a little about the tensions between Morocco and Algeria, but definitely need to dig a little deeper. I’m guessing things have often gotten way more aggressive than minaret building. I’m glad you enjoyed this look at Hassan II Mosque, I would love to have a hammam experience in Morocco. And Turkey too come to that, somehow we never got round to it in Istanbul despite having two weeks. Why did you only marginally enjoy it? I’m curious.
Maybe because my friends and I went to the one near the Grand Bazaar, so it was supposedly quite touristy. We felt the entire thing happened too fast as opposed to what they did to a local customer who happened to be there during our visit and seemed to be handled in a much more relaxed pace.
It looks pretty special to me 🤗💕
Thanks for your comment Jo!
De nada 🤣💕
Wow, that seems like such an unreal place! Everything that you described seems absolutely stunning (the pictures confirm it), and really impressive. The fact that the roof is retractable is also incredible, I don’t know if it is very common but it is the first time that I hear such thing for this type of building! I hope the rest of Casablanca lived up to the high standards set by this mosque!
Hey Juliette, I’m glad you enjoyed this brief look at Hassan II Mosque. I’m no mosque expert, but I would imagine it’s only the global titans that have retractable roofs. The mosque is definitely Casablanca’s centrepiece, but fear not there are plenty more understated delights along the way.
Visiting Morocco seems like an interesting and adventurous choice for a honeymoon. And hey, at least you had a great start of your trip with fabulous weather. Plus the mosque looks stunning on the outside and inside. I love all the arched door frames that look like they go on forever.
Yeah, it was a left-field honeymoon choice. Somehow though it felt like a much better decision than lying on a beach somewhere. The weather was perfect really, warm and comfortable, while this mosque definitely has an infinite feel to it. Thanks for dropping in guys.
Great travel writing! You are an inspiration.
Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoy my blog 🙂
Wow, what a beautiful and detailed Mosque! I am impressed at the elaborate ceiling, and that is neat that it was retractable!
Cheers Allie, I reckon it would be quite an experience to attend prayer time there in the summer with the roof opening up.
Wow! The mosque looks attractive.
The mosque is spectacular and so photogenic. I love all the fine details and that retractable roof is incredible. Thanks for the tour!
Hey hey, I’m glad you feel wowed by the place. it certainly isn’t your average mosque. Thanks for reading!
Casablanca was one place in Morocco I didn’t get to. Interested to follow your posts. (I loved the movie, most of which was filmed indoors anyway!) You mentioned a previous marriage. My second was the great love of my life; the second for both of us. We never know what lies ahead…
Hey Ruth, somehow I knew you would be a Casablanca fan. How could you not be? Thanks for sharing your own thoughts on love and marriage. 2 was the magic number for us it seems.
Could this be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world? I love that it sits on a platform over the Atlantic Ocean with part of the floor made of glass so worshippers can pray directly over the sea! Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx
Well Aiva, you’ve done a clean sweep of Morocco reading and comments. Appreciate that. Indeed Hassan II Mosque regularly pops up on such lists. Being quite simple in design (from the outside at least), I think its raised location overlooking the sea is indeed a big part of its visual appeal.
You are welcome 😊 Morocco took me by surprise and by the end of the trip, I was and still am, under its spell. Therefore, I love revisiting this wonderful country through other traveller blog posts 😉