TOURING EXOTIC CASABLANCA
If you’ve been following the blog lately you’ll know that I have been sharing with you our 7 country voyage aboard Oceania’s ship, Riviera. Today we will be touring exotic Casablanca, the ship’s 2nd port of call. Casablanca, meaning “White House”, is the largest city in Morocco and is located in the western part of the country on the Atlantic Ocean. Casablanca is Morocco’s chief port and industrial center and is considered the economic and business center of Morocco. It is also one of the largest and most important cities in all of Africa. That said, it clearly was not one of the most important ports of call on our itinerary, as we would have only a very short visit here.
But, one of the best things about cruising is the ability to see a large number of cities and sights without the effort that travel often requires. You simply go to sleep in comfort and wake up in a new port of call. However, the drawback to cruise travel is the limited time spent in each port, often limiting the traveler to only a glimpse of the city being visited, precluding indepth exploration. Except in the case of certain ports of call with exceptional amounts of sights to take in, places like Saint Petersburg, Russia, or in our case on this cruise, Monte Carlo, Monaco, visits to each port of call are limited. Such was the case for our visit to Casablanca, Morocco. We arrived in port at 8:00am and would sail again that afternoon at 3:00pm.
So, both because of the short time in port and because of the exotic nature of this city, we opted to take a shore excursion offered by Oceania Cruise Lines. As experienced cruisers, we don’t often select shore excursions sold by the cruise line. Instead, we sometimes rent a car and explore on our own, or hire a private driver to tour us around a city. Other times we might hire a private guide through Viator, as we did in Lisbon. Generally speaking, making one’s own sightseeing arrangements with a private guide is very often considerably cheaper than buying a shore excursion from the cruise line, especially if you are traveling with family. And it always involves fewer people, making it more comfortable and much more flexible. Besides, for me, half the fun is planning our trips and studying up on each location so that in most cases I am my own expert guide. But here in Casablanca we joined the ship’s tour and boarded a bus for our short, 4 hour tour of Casablanca. Our first stop was the Hassan II Mosque. Purported to cost $800 million to construct, some 12 million people donated most of the funds used to build the mosque that has become Casablanca’s main attraction.
Situated on a promontory that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, it is the largest mosque in North Africa and the 3rd largest in the world. Both a visual and architectural marvel, the mosque took 13 years to build and was completed in 1993. Designed by a French architect named Michel Pinseau, it has the world’s tallest minaret. The 60 story tower is 689 feet tall and has a laser installed at its peak that shines a light toward Mecca.
The mosque was named after former King Hassan II, who commissioned its construction as a way to honor the highly venerated King Mohammed the IV who died in 1961. Thousands of the country’s best artisans and craftsmen participated in the construction and beautification of the building.
Much of the structure was highly ornamented with the most intricate of mosaic designs.
Built partially on land and partially over the water, King Hassan II proclaimed that he wished for, and I quote:
“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.
Below is a photo of my son who is dwarfed by the massive and highly ornamented door.
Sadly we were not able to tour inside the mosque which can accommodate 25,000 worshippers. The full 22 acre complex has a courtyard that can accommodate an additional 80,000 people.
After spending time exploring the grounds of the mosque we boarded our bus which took us through the crowded streets of Casablanca. Along the way our tour guide pointed out Rick’s Café Casablanca…
a restaurant and bar designed to recreate the mythical bar/cafe made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the classic movie, Casablanca. Casablanca was the setting for the 1942 film of the same name that achieved worldwide popularity and won 3 Oscars.
Rick’s Cafe, built in 2004, is set in an old courtyard-style mansion and is said to be filled with architectural and decorative details reminiscent of the film. We did not get a chance to visit but it sounded like a fun place to spend an evening.
The next stop on our tour was the working courthouse building, Mahkama du Pacha.
The beautiful building has intricately carved marble columns and arches that curve gracefully to the ceiling of the structure. The walls below are adorned with beautiful, multi-coloured mosaics. Have a look at the incredible chandeliers hanging in succession within each archway.
Built in the early 1950’s, the architectural style of the building has a lot of Moorish influences that we will see again later in the cruise when we visit Spain.
There is also a lot of magnificently carved cedar wood that blend with the chiseled stucco below.
Our quick visit to Casablanca ended with an all-too-short walk through the Old Medina shopping district.
Our tour guide instructed us to be back at the bus in 30 minutes! Honestly, I could have spent 30 hours here and not been bored.
I quickly ducked in and out of the shops, frantically looking for Moroccan tea cups, something I have always longed to own and had planned to buy while in Casablanca.
The shopkeepers were warm and friendly, and as gritty as the place appeared, I did not feel unsafe.
I would have loved to have had much more time, and several empty suitcases, in order to shop here to my hearts content.
But alas, it was very quickly time to return to the ship, which at 3:00pm would set sail for Southern Spain. As we exited the Port of Casablanca, one of the largest artificial ports in the world, and in fact, the largest port in North Africa, it was interesting to observe the stark and exotic contrasts from the other ports we would visit. In Casablanca things were colorful, graphic and yes, quite gritty.
The fishermen, in boats that hardly seemed seaworthy, watched us as we marveled at them.
The contrast between our enormous floating palace and their bobbing, tiny blue boats was astounding.
And little did the sunbathing fellow at the end of the pier know as he posed for his picture-taking friend, that he was also posing for my last photo in Casablanca.
As we entered the open seas, Casablanca’s Pilot, who had navigated our vessel safely out to sea, exited our ship and sped away.
So there you have it: TOURING EXOTIC CASABLANCA
Stay tuned and in my next post we will visit Granada, Spain.
Until then I leave you with a little Casablanca movie clip, As Time Goes By. Here’s lookin at you kid…
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