The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca was completed in 1993 after great expense and artistic labor, and the result is one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world. Its gleaming newness and tremendous wealth is a stark contrast against the rest of Casablanca.
The great Hassan II Mosque was commissioned by its namesake, King Hassan II, in part to provide Casablanca with a single landmark monument. On his birthday, July 9, 1980, the king declared:
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.
Designed by French architect Michel Pinseau, construction of the Hassan II Mosque began in July 1986 on land reclaimed (without compensation to the former residents) from a run-down area near the sea. The goal for completion of the mosque was King Hassan II’s 60th birthday in 1989, but it ended up not being finished until August 30, 1993.
The project is estimated to have cost as much as $800 million, funds that were remarkably raised entirely from public subscription. International reports have suggested both local resentment and less-than-voluntary donations to the project, but Moroccans seem to be genuinely proud of their monument. The massive fundraising also had a positive side-effect: it temporarily reduced Morocco’s money supply and brought down inflation.
Nearly all the materials of the Hassan II Mosque are from Morocco, with the sole exceptions of the imported white granite columns and glass chandeliers (from Murano, near Venice). The marble is from Agandir, the cedar wood is from the Middle Atlas and the granite comes from Tafraoute. Over 6,000 Moroccan master craftsmen and artisans were employed to work these local materials into the intricate decorations that embellish the entire structure. When construction passed its deadline in the early 1990s, 1,400 men worked by day and 1,000 worked by night to bring the vast project to completion.
The Hassan II Mosque is open to all Muslims at daily prayer times and for special Friday services. Non-Muslim visitors may enter the mosque on guided tours, which take place several times a day in English.
The most distinctive characteristic of the Hassan II Mosque is its spectacular location (see aerial view below) on a platform over the Atlantic Ocean. Uniquely, part of the mosque’s floor is made of glass so worshippers can kneel directly over the sea. Unfortunately, this wonderful feature is mainly for royal use and is off-limits to visitors.
Above, an automated sliding roof opens (on special occasions) to the heavens. Thus the faithful of Casablanca can indeed contemplate God’s sky and ocean in accordance with Hassan’s wishes.
At 689 feet, the Great Mosque’s minaret is the tallest structure in Morocco and the tallest minaret in the world. At night, lasers shine a beam from the top of the minaret toward Mecca, “to point the way to God.” The building was designed to withstand earthquakes and has a heated floor and electric doors.
The style of the Hassan II Mosque displays strong Moorish influences, bringing to mind the Alhambra and Mezquita in Spain. Horseshoe arches prevail both outside and in, and the walls and columns of the interior are delicately carved in a variety of intricate patterns.
There is a huge women’s gallery on the right as you face the prayer area, which is beautifully carved of dark wood. The prayer area in the back is spacious and carpeted in red. Downstairs are Turkish-style baths and fountains for washing.