Cosmopolitan Cities of Morocco: Casablanca, Rabat & Tangier
When it comes to Morocco, cosmopolitan and modern cities are not really my thing, but there are one or two very nice and interesting places to visit, both in Casablanca and Rabat. I am giving you my personal and humble advice as a fact to the point summary, with the intention of helping you exploit your time as best you can while traveling in this fascinating north African country.
Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city and its economic capital. To give you an idea of its economic significance, more than 60% of Morocco’s total sea traffic is handled by Casablanca’s port. It is a city that has grown rapidly during the last decades, due to the influx of economic migration from the countryside, and has expanded in a chaotic way. The mix and match of different architectural styles and the disorganized growth is immediately visible. The rapid growth and centralization of the country’s economy has fuelled the creation of slums where the less fortunate population that couldn’t get on the rapid economic growth train live in a somewhat dark and gloomy atmosphere.
I have to say that the city in itself really disappointed us young eager travellers arriving for the first time in Morocco to our first destination in our one month journey.
Casablanca is a cosmopolitan city that has some Art Deco and modernist jewels with some elements of traditional Morocco (the old medieval city or medina) but for the most part, we didn’t find it particularly nice and wouldn’t recommend you to visit this metropolis where it not for the magnificent modern religious architecture of Hassan II Mosque, one of the few Islamic religious buildings open to non-Muslims and THE Islamic religious building of Morocco.
The World's 3rd Largest Religious Monument: Hassan II Mosque
Mosque Hassan II
This religious temple is an absolute wonder that was worth the not so attractive visit to Casablanca. Rising above the Atlantic Ocean, the beautiful Hassan II Mosque is the world’s 3rd-largest religious monument and the mosque with the highest minaret in the world (210m). Designed by French architect Michel Pinseau, the temple can hold 25,000 worshippers within the prayer hall and up to 80,000 more accommodated in the esplanades around it -the prayer hall is large enough to house St Peter’s Cathedral (imagine that!!).
The interior of the mosque is equipped with a centrally heated floor, electric doors and a sliding roof. State of the art technology contrasted with nature’s most basic raw materials. Cedar wood, marble and granite are some of the materials with which the best master craftsmen in the country worked to produce beautiful wood carvings, tile work and stucco moulding to showcase Morocco’s fair and creative artistry. The mosque is said to have cost around US$600 million and, more surprisingly, was paid by public contribution.
This icon is absolutely breath taking and you really should see it. It is fine if you arrive by plane, visit this beautiful Muslim temple and take your bus/train to your next destination. This is the highlight of Casablanca and there isn’t much more to see. If you want to spend a day here, I would advice you to go to the Medina for the rest of the day.
Mosque Hassan II Interior DesignClick thumbnail to view full-size
Other than Hassan II Mosque, there is not much else to see in Casablanca, except for its bright, pleasant, clean, little medina, which exemplifies how small it used to be compared to the big cosmopolitan city it is today. All though it is supposed to be the old medieval city, the medina looks relatively new and has a European feel to it.
Crafts at Casablanca's Old City or MedinaClick thumbnail to view full-size
What to see in Rabat
All though Rabat is the modern capital of Morocco, it has a nice relaxed atmosphere and almost no hustle. Our activity in this cosmopolitan french influenced city was divided between sightseeing and savoring Moroccan-French pastries.
The sites we visited are the architectural relic of Tower Hassan II, Mohammed V Mausoleum and the Royal Palace, which portray Moroccan traditional style.
The Tower Hassan (Le Tour Hassan) is one of Rabat’s most famous landmarks. In 1195, sultan Yacoub al-Mansour began the construction of what was supposed to be the largest minaret in the Muslim world; the tower, which was intended to be 60m tall, only maid it to 44m because when the sultan died, its construction was stopped. The mosque al-Mansour dreamed of was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, but the re-erected pillars stand to testify for his great plans. Hassan’s 44m Tower does remain standing.
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V shares the same location as the Tower of Hassan and houses the bodies of the present king’s grandfather and father (Hassan II). The richly decorated tombs of the former kings are located below ground in an open chamber, which you can visit if dressed appropriately.
Mausoleum of Mohammed V and the pillars of al-Mansour dreamed mosqueClick thumbnail to view full-size
Royal Palace Main Entrance
Rabat's Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is heavily guarded and off limits, you can actually only see it from out side and appreciate its architecture, gardens and guards. There are several entrances to the palace grounds but the one the lonely planet recommends is Rabat’s city wall gate “Bab ar-Rouah” which means “Gate of the Winds” and thus there we entered and had a pleasant walk. As always, taking photographs is a big part of the fun so there we are, my sis, Cesar and me posing for the camera.
The ancient Roman city of Sala Colonia was basically destroyed by the same earthquake that shattered al--Mansour’s mosque and there is not much to see in its remains named “Chellah”. The most interesting part of it are these amazing bird’s nests on the treetops.
For the rest, you can enjoy your stay in Rabat without much attention to any guide, going where the wind takes you.
I am really sorry to say so, but I can not put a word in for Tangier, it is a very dark city, filthy and with a negative atmosphere. I wouldn’t recommend you to visit, and I am certainly not the only traveler that has been to Morocco and says that it is not a a place you’d want to be in on your vacations.
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