The arid remoteness of the High Atlas Mountains did not prepare me for the urban tumult of Casablanca.
I had spent several days walking in the lower part of the High Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco. The Berber guide who helped me explore had introduced me to kind people in small mountain villages. The long walks between villages passed over quiet rocky mountainsides. It was easy for my mind to wander and think about the mountain traditions and culture.
That came to an abrupt halt when I got off the train in Casablanca. First of all I thought I would become a casualty of the intense rivalry among the taxi drivers vying for my business. As it turned out the driver I ended up with didn’t know where my hotel was but drove around the old downtown neighborhoods until he found someone he could ask. I arrived safely, but it is always unnerving to get into a car with a stranger in a new city, especially after a nearly physical battle to win my business.
Casablanca is a huge city and some parts are in better shape than others. It is filled with intriguing sites, sounds, and smells. I only had two days before I flew to Milan, so I didn’t get to explore very much.
I was near the original old town (medina) but was surrounded by typical urban businesses and hotels. There were pockets of modern commercial enterprise and remnants of ancient walled city.
Because I enjoy walking with my camera to find interesting images I decided to walk across town toward the beach to see the famous King Hassan II Mosque. The only map I had was a small page torn out of a Morocco guidebook. Needless to say, it was lacking a lot of detail and streets. I got lost but asked for help and got directed back toward the beach.
I passed through some very old neighborhoods but saw lots of interesting parts of northern Casablanca.
The King Hassan II Mosque is spectacularly large. It is set on an expansive courtyard and is protected from the crashing Atlantic waves by a seawall on three sides. It is near the old medina and serves the same central community role as a large Gothic cathedral in a western European city.
Worshipers streamed out of the old city across the courtyard and into the grounds of the mosque as the call to prayer sounded.
Everything about this mosque is massive.
The minaret is about ~210 m (689 ft.) tall. It is beautifully sculpted and has tile mosaics accenting even the highest sections. It had been a foggy morning at the beach, but eventually the clouds lifted.
I spent several hours photographing, watching, and listening. Fortunately, my walk back to the hotel was much more efficient. Casablanca was not what I expected. It was more interesting and varied while still being walkable. It formed a strong impression and was a memorable north African city with rich history.