The city of Casablanca's pride and joy is the Hassan II Mosque. Built in tribute to the previous king (by the previous king), it is one of the biggest religious sites in the world. Just about everyone on the voyage took a tour through the mosque, even those who didn’t do it with the city orientation. It is stunning; designed with traditional Moorish influences on a mind-boggling scale, it fits 25,000 worshipers inside during prayer times, and another 80,000 outside. The minaret is 689 feet tall, making it the tallest structure in the country, and the tallest minaret in the world.
The mosque was actually designed by famous French architect, Michel Pinseau. As large as it is, it was finished in a surprisingly small amount of time. The project began in 1986 and was completed during 1993. It is the only mosque in Casablanca that permits non-Muslims for guided tours.
The controversy surrounding the mosque when construction first began centered on the price tag. It cost roughly $800 million to build, and took over 6000 master craftsmen to finish all of the intricate designs in such a short period of time. However, the beauty of the building won over many of it's local detractors once the mosque was completed.
The mosque has several features that make it stand out from most other mosques. During prayer, worshipers will kneel down on the mosques floor, so the mosque was designed with heated floors, which impressed the students. But was amazed them the most was that the mosque has a retractable roof. On special occasions the sliding roof is opened, and evening prayers are done under the night stars.
The students were also taken to see the Turkish-style baths below the worship area. This is where worshipers make ablutions, purifying themselves before prayer.
The last notable feature is the laser that sits atop the minaret. At night, it shines a green beam toward Mecca in the East, the direction Muslims face during their prayers. This light can be seen for miles, and many students gathered on the decks of the MV Explorer each night because the beam was visible from the ship.
Japan! Kyoto: Getting Lost and Ginkgo Trees - The next morning Meena and I headed to Kyoto. We spent the entire day wandering the city. We wandered into temples, removed our shoes, and meditate...