It’s been an amazing day but it’s already 10:00pm & we just got back to the hotel from dinner. I can hear the call to prayer echoing across the city from all the mosques, which is lovely. Our group is very compatible & I think we’ll have some fun times. We have 8 women, ranging from early 50’s & I’d think I’m the oldest. We have a lone male in the group but our tour leader is a young bloke plus our driver so that helps to balance the numbers somewhat.
Our day started with a guided tour of the Hassan II mosque which is the jewel in Casablanca’s crown. It’s incredibly beautiful & so huge that it’s difficult to take it all in & absolutely impossible to photograph. From 1987 to 1993, 2,500 workers & 10,000 craftsmen worked in shifts 24/7 to build it, so it’s relatively new. It has the highest minaret in the world & is the 3rd largest mosque after the ones in Mecca & Medina.
It holds 20,000 men on the main floor & 5,000 women on the balconies along each side with an ablution area under the mosque which has 47 fountains. All the materials used were sourced in Morocco except for a couple of Carrara marble columns & the many crystal chandeliers which are made from Venetian glass. The magnificent carved cedar wood roof is built in 2 sections each weighing 1,500 tonnes which silently slide apart when the weather permits. The roof takes 3 minutes to open & 2 minutes to close. It was closed today which made the interior quite dim & I think it would be quite a different atmosphere with the roof open.
The quality of the workmanship was absolutely amazing – all the intricate paster carving was done in place & the tiling on the walls & floors was superb. Even though there were a lot of tourists, the place had a serenity – I think we were all overcome by the beauty around us.
After that very special experience, we drove in our very comfortable mini-bus along the Atlantic coast north to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Casablanca is the largest city & the economic centre with about 3.5 million inhabitants, then Rabat is a bit smaller with about 2.5 million. We had lunch there then walked around the Kasbah (the fortress) & the Medina (the Old City). Both of them were most interesting.
Then we had about 3 hours drive to Meknes through some very varied countryside. The area around Casablanca & Rabat is quite flat & once we got out of the towns we drove through olive groves, vineyards, grain growing, sheep, cattle, goats & lots of donkeys, some pulling ancient carts. The land seems to be very fertile & I was told their annual rainfall in this area is 500 – 600 mm with up to 2,000 mm in the Rif mountains to the north.
As we got closer to Meknes, the landscape became more undulating with some beautiful views across the valleys. We had a short tour around Meknes in the mini-bus & arrived at our hotel at 6:30 pm, with a quick stop before meeting again at 7:00 for dinner.
It’s been a very long, tiring day so this is a bit scrappy & it sounds like tomorrow is also going to be busy so that’s enough for now. I feel overloaded with all the different sights & need to get some sleep.