Casablanca to Meknes: Mosques and Royal Palaces

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September 11th 2018
Published: September 11th 2018
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Hassan II Mosque minaretHassan II Mosque minaretHassan II Mosque minaret

At 210 metres the largest in the world.
Travel is the only thing that you buy that makes you richer- Anonymous

Greetings from our riad in Meknes, as I sip my gin and tonic, waiting to meet the group shortly for dinner.

Last night we met our fellow travellers and trip leader Abdul, who we all love. We are: eight from Australia (John and Barb from Sydney, Greg and Wendy from Queensland, Matthew and Nicole from Sydney, Jeff and Kathy from Brisbane - originally from Canada), two Americans (Linda and Annie - sisters from Chicago), and Susan and I. We had the usual meeting then walked to Les Fleurs restaurant for dinner. There were tourists there (including the Intrepid tour group that leaves Casablanca the same time as us), but there were lots of locals there too. I had a really tasty couscous with vegetables and Susan had a fish tagine. This restaurant doesn’t have a licence for alcohol so we settled for sparking water. It was a very nice meal and we enjoyed talking with our group. I think we will all get along well and look forward to travelling with them over the next few weeks.

After breakfast (similar to yesterday's) we checked out of the Kenzi Basma hotel and hopped into our comfortable minibus for the short ride to the Hassan II Mosque. We wandered around outside for awhile, taking yet more photos, then went inside for the 9 am tour. It was a beautiful day, and fairly warm already. The mosque, third largest in the world, with the world‘s tallest minaret, was built in the late 80s-early 90s, by the previous king, Hassan II (father of the current king Mohammed VI). It took 10,000 craftsmen over 7 years, working 24 hours a day in shifts, to complete it. It is positively amazing inside. All of the mosaic tiles, the cedar wood carvings (the roof is retractable), the marble and the granite, came from Morocco. The only decoration not from Morocco are the chandeliers, which are made of Murano glass from Italy, and the white marble columns, also from Italy. The mosque really showcases the beautiful Moroccan traditional artisanship.

King Hassan II was very involved in the construction, and it was built to his exacting standards. How much the construction actually cost is not publicly known, and one wonders whether the money would have been better spent improving the lives of Moroccans, but the certainly is a beautiful space. Downstairs are the vast ablution rooms, for washing before prayers (one for women and one for men). I asked the guide if they were actually used, and she said only during Ramadan. Just the regular taps at the ends of the rooms are used on a regular basis, the fancy areas are only used during Ramadan. The mosque can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside, and 80,000 people outside. The Hassan II mosque is the only mosque in Morocco that allows non-Muslims to visit, so that will be it for mosques for us this trip. That‘s too bad because I have really enjoyed visiting mosques in other countries, and learning more about the religion.

I realized how lucky we were to have seen the mosque museum the previous day (before it even opened, the guide got us in and we were the only ones there, when we left there was a big lineup). We were able to get close to the samples of the amazing artisanship and learn a bit about the construction before we actually saw the interior of the mosque. Oh yes, and my first experience of a squat toilet in Morocco was in the mosque. I don‘t mind them, I’ve had enough experience using them in other countries.

After our hour long tour finished we met up with Abdul, and our driver Lehassan (I’m positive that is not the way to spell it but it kind of sounds like that) picked us up and we drove about 10 minutes to the Corniche, a really nice area of Casablanca with lovely beaches and resort type hotels. We had a refreshment stop (I had a cafe au lait and Susan had Moroccan mint tea). We then headed out of Casablanca, passing through the lovely Anfa neighbourhood, before driving north along the Atlantic coast to the city of Rabat, where we picked up our local guide Mohammed. The drive, of approximately 1.5 hours, was fairly flat and not all that scenic.

We first went to the Royal Palace, but the public isn’t allowed very close to the Palace at all, so we just took photos from behind the chained off area. There are a large number of royal palaces in Morocco (I think the guide the other day said around 24, but I could be wrong). They are all huge and employ large numbers of staff, and likely cost a great deal of money to maintain. The staff lives on the palace grounds, and some government ministries were located there (Rabat is the political capital of Morocco). The palaces are all heavily guarded. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, and the King is the head of state and the spiritual leader. As we drove past the parliament, Mohammed said that’s where the liars are located. Hah, the same, to some degree, in most countries. I got the distinct impression Mohammed wasn’t a fan of the Royal family and the money spent to maintain them.

The sun was quite hot at this point, beating down on the back of my neck, and since I had forgotten to put on sunscreen (what, I need sunscreen in Morocco?) I wrapped a scarf around my neck, so that‘s why I’m wearing in in some photos.

After the royal palace we headed to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V (grandfather of the current king Mohammed VI) and the Hassan Tower. The Hassan Tower is the only surviving remnant of what was to have been the second largest mosque in the world at the time, but as its
Atlantic OceanAtlantic OceanAtlantic Ocean

The mosque is located right on the coast
patron Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour died in 1199 before it was finished, it was never completed. In 1755 it was destroyed by a massive earthquake, and only the minaret, assorted columns, and a few wall remnants, remain. It was a very atmospheric area and I enjoyed my time there.

The Mausoleum, constructed in 1971, was built by the former King Hassan II, to be the tomb for his father Mohammed V who died in 1961. Mohammed V, Hassan II, and Hassan II‘s brother Prince Abdullah are all buried there. The interior is quite lovely. We then hopped back into the minibus and drove to the Kasbah Les Oudayas, which is the very old walled area of Rabat. Its narrow streets are mostly residential, and whitewashed with blue accents. Apparently most of the houses were built by Muslim refugees from Spain, after they were expelled. We admired the beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, and then stopped for Moroccan mint tea and some cookies. The cookies were good (but not as good as the ones we got from the shop in the Habous yesterday), and it was an enjoyable stop. Moroccans like sweet things, the mint tea is usually served very sweet, and along with the cookies, left us with a sugar high. 😊

It was now about 4:30, and after dropping off Mohammed, we began our drive inland for about 2 hours to Meknes. The drive was much more scenic than from Casablanca to Rabat. The landscape changed from flat to gentle rolling hills. This is a big agricultural growing area, and we passed countless olive groves and vineyards (Meknes has a wine industry), and fields of various melons. We passed through a few impressive gates into the Meknes Medina, and walked the final few minutes though the main square, Place el-Hedim, to our riad, the beautiful Riad Ritaj. What a stunning riad it is, beautifully decorated in traditional Moroccan style. We were greeted with mint tea as we awaited our room assignments. We settled into our room, Susan made us a gin and tonic, and I began this blog. We met the group for dinner at 8 pm, and enjoyed a variety of couscous and tagines (I had vegetable couscous and vegetable tagine). We shared a bottle of rosé with a few of our travel companions, and had a lovely meal, followed by Moroccan cookies, orange with cinnamon, and mint tea.

It’s getting close to midnight, so I will finish, add the photos, and get some sleep, ready for another amazing day tomorrow!

Additional photos below
Photos: 49, Displayed: 27


Section of the cedar wood roofSection of the cedar wood roof
Section of the cedar wood roof

The main roof is retractable - amazing!
Royal family billboardRoyal family billboard
Royal family billboard

At the Corniche

11th September 2018

General Comments
As with your other trips I am enjoying your Blog immensely. Your comment "the money would have been better spent improving the lives of Moroccans" brought back memories of the massive churches in Quebec - one could make a similar observation there. Looked up your name "Lehassan" and found a possible spelling "Elhassan". One thing that made me chuckle was your observation on the "squat toilet". It brought back memories of some years ago when Avis and I were visiting Chartres Cathedral in Frances. Avis had to perform like you did and as this was her first experience with a squat toilet, it took some encouragement to use the facilities. Enjoy the rest of your trip.
13th September 2018

General comments
Hi Derek, that’s probably the correct spelling. Thanks for your comment and glad you’re enjoying the blog!
16th September 2018

Beautiful Photos
What lovely photos! Stunning architecture and design, and just lovely colours. The Riad looks very comfortable and equally stunning :D
17th September 2018

Beautiful photos
Thank you Chris! The riads were lovely.
17th September 2018

Sorry about name
I meant thanks Alex - so sorry about using the wrong name!
18th September 2018

No Worries
Ah, lol. No worries - Chris is a nice name too 😊

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