| Cunard Queen Victoria 2016
Spain & Morocco and Canary Islands Celebrations
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Casablanca is a city of contrasts with narrow, winding alleys and bustling bazaars as well as wide boulevards and elegant buildings. Our Cunard Port Guide stated it is Africa's 5th largest city, with a population of over 3 million. It is the commercial capital, the largest port and the main industrial centre of Morocco. Rabat, 55 miles away, is the actual capital of Morocco.
This was our first visit to Casablanca and in order to efficiently visit the key sights we booked a morning tour. The tour began with a drive along the coastal road, the Corniche d'Ain Diab, as far as the El-Hank lighthouse. Everywhere there were red Moroccan flags flying. The Corniche is lined with swimming pools, hotels and restaurants, including La Reserve Beach which was the first establishment built with panoramic views in 1934. Our drive was timed so that we reached the Hassan II Mosque just before 0900. Entry to the mosque is controlled and 0900 is the first entry; tourist tickets were 120 dirhams or 60 dirhams for students. The Hassan II Mosque is said by my guide book to be the second largest religious building in the world, after the mosque in Mecca, but by the Cunard Port Guide to be the third largest mosque after the mosques of Mecca and Medine. It covers 9 hectares, much built over the sea. The minaret is 25 metres wide and 200 metres high and has two laser beams which shine towards Mecca. It is new, opened in 1993. Fountains in the courtyard are decorated with tile work and framed with marble arches and columns. The entrance doorways are marble. Double doors are in the shape of pointed arches framed by columns; many are clad in incised bronze. The Royal Door is decorated with traditional motifs engraved on brass and titanium.
Inside the Prayer Hall measures 200 metres by 100 metres and is able to hold 25,000 faithful. It is the only mosque in Morocco which is open for non-Muslims to visit. The central part of the roof slides open, similar to the roof in the Garden Lounge on the Queen Victoria. The cedar-paneled interior of the dome over the prayer hall has carved and painted decoration. Women have a separate gallery, above two mezzanines and not able to be visited. Their gallery is smaller, holding up to 5,000 women. The visit finally included a viewing of the Hammam, beneath the prayer hall.
After the one hour guided visit to the mosque there was a panoramic drive through the luxurious residential quarter of Anfa, later stopping for half an hour at the United Nations Square, outside the Excelsior Hotel. This hotel was built in 1914-1916 and was the first of Morocco's Art Deco hotels and the finest hotel in Morocco in 1916. It was once a fine building but is now looking shabby. There was an opportunity to follow our guide to the official tourist souvenir shop, but we chose instead to explore the area. Initially we followed the brand new tram line towards the Place Mohammed V and the old Post Office, built in 1920 and decorated with tiles and arches, which is now a bank. On the other corner is another bank, the Bank al Maghrib, the state bank. It was built in 1937. There was a campanile and clock in the distance which looked interesting and we originally thought was a railway station but is actually the old City Hall, and now the Prefecture, on the southeast side of the Place Mohammed V. Unfortunately the greenery in the centre was now a construction site and we could only glimpse the Moorish-style Palace of Justice Building from the Post Office over the fencing. Returning to the United Nations Square at the appointed rendezvous time there was no sign of the rest of the group so there was time to admire the Clock tower which is adjacent to one of the entries to the Old Medina. The clock tower dates from 1911 but was then demolished in 1948 and rebuilt in 1993.
Our tour was supposed to include a photo stop there but when we set off again we went along the Boulevard Mohammed V and the next stop was at the Church of Notre Dame de Lourdes. This interesting modern church is sited on the corner of a busy roundabout and is a similar shape to the cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, but more elegant. The modern stained glass inside is stunning.
The next stop was at the Habous Quarter, the new Medina, where we visited the substantial Mahakma du Pacha. The building is modern, dating from 1952, and is a busy prefecture, but we were able to visit the two courtyards. It is said to have 64 rooms with traditional Arabic decoration and we saw carved stucco and tile work carved cedar wood panels on the ceiling and wrought iron doors.
Just around the corner we walked towards the Habous Quarter. In the distance there was a glimpse of a minaret topped with 5 balls; all the others we had seen, including the Hassan II Mosque, had 3 balls. So this one was special. Shortly there are the guards and the entrance to the Royal Palace. It is not permitted to go inside, but only to admire the two main entrance doors of the Royal Palace, which was built in the 1920s. Then a short walk around the scenic quarter completed our tour.
Having returned to the Queen Victoria we spent a few minutes in our stateroom before going out again, on the free shuttle bus and back to the United Nations square. It is only one mile from the quay side and we could clearly see the red funnel from the square, but the route through the port before reaching the port gate meant that it was best to take the shuttle bus. Like Tangier, french is the favourite european language here. The old Medina was opposite the shuttle bus stop and with rucksack and wearing our favourite old gardening clothes to try and blend in we entered through one of the gates, near the clock tower. There was a distinctive green minaret in front and we hoped that would guide us as landmark so we didn't get too lost. In the morning we had passed part of the medina and knew it would be full of local people. We hoped that it would be safe in the early afternoon. There were not many tourists about and once or twice we were approached by locals who wanted to guide us, but they were not persistent and we were able to explore without any problems. Several said they had friends in Australia and wished us well in New Zealand. One of our New Year resolutions is to keep up to date with NZ sport, especially cricket.
The old Medina is still surrounded by part of the rampart walls from Portuguese times and we decided to use these walls to define the edge of our exploration, walking in a generally clockwise direction and keeping sight of the minarets of the mosques inside for direction. Some streets are very narrow whereas others are wide enough for a small car, although the streets we found were totally pedestrian. One car which tried to drive inside was turned back. There was an enormous choice of stalls for trainers, cheap clothes and every type imaginable of household goods, and then we found the food market. The first noise was of the chickens who were kept alive in pens until they were weighed and purchased. We never saw whether they were taken away to be decapitated or whether their legs were tied and the lady (it was usually women shopping there) had to deal with it herself at home. There were also large pieces of meat hanging. Local people do not like to have their photo taken so we do not have many pictures of the medina and we did not want to cause any problems. Even though it was early we did see two separate groups of young men who were arguing with each other and it seemed best to move away to a different area.
Having unexpectedly emerged at the original gate, there was plenty of time to walk around the outside and look at the shops which were underneath the arches. It would be so easy to spend lots of time, and lots of money, in these little stalls. Although we only spent an hour looking around it did give a good idea for what is described in our Cunard Port Guide as "a reasonably authentic taste of the real Morocco" and complemented everything we had seen on tour in the morning. We returned to the ship just before lunch ended at 1500.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 31s t December, 2016