As-Salamu Alaykum from Morocco

Mosque ExteriorWe have successfully touched down in the Palmeraie, a resorty suburb of Marrakesh. Thanks to LuxuryLink, we’re staying at Jnane Tamsna, a luxurious, garden-filled sprawling compound of lovely Moroccan houses.

I had mixed feelings about staying in the Palmeraie instead of the middle of Marrakesh, but we’ll be living in the dead centre of Essaouira’s medina for two and a half months. I figured we could enjoy a little touristy luxury for a few days. Plus, this place is only about a quarter-full, so we pretty much have the gardens and heated pools to ourselves. It’s gorgeous.

Of All the Gin Joints

We landed in Casablanca, and overnighted in Morroco’s grimy commercial centre. I’ve never much cared for big cities in the developing world (the exception being Havana), and I wasn’t particularly enamoured of Casablanca.

The exception was the extraordinary Hassan II mosque. I gather non-Muslims are usually not permitted inside mosques, so we jumped at the chance for a tour. Maybe they made an exception for this mosque to recover expenses–it cost half a billion dollars to build. From Wikipedia:

Built on reclaimed land, almost half of the surface of the mosque lies over the Atlantic water. This was inspired by the verse of the Qur’an that states “the throne of God was built on the water”. Part of floor of this facility is glass so worshippers can kneel directly over the sea; above, lasers shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca

By a significant margin, it’s the biggest religious building (nay, complex) I’ve ever seen. It can accommodate 25,000 worshippers (20,000 men on the floor, 5,000 women on enclosed balconies). The main worshipping space is mind-bogglingly enormous–it defies description. I took some photos, but they don’t satisfactorily portray the experience.

Riding on the Marrakesh Express

The following morning we took the three-hour train trip down to Marrakesh. The landscape changed from farmland to red rock terrain. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit how much I was reminded of Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home planet. Though, of course, I’m pretty sure those scenes were shot in Tunisia.

Morroco seems like an ideal culinary nation for me. The food is flavourful but not particularly spicy. They eat a lot of poultry, and I’ve always preferred cous-cous to rice. Plus, Morocco is mostly a dry nation, so restaurants offer a rich variety of non-alcoholic drinks and juices.

Here’s our nascent Morocco photo set on Flickr, if anybody’s interested. More updates as events warrant and web access permits.


  1. Ooooh, I am incredibly envious of your adventures in Morocco! Your mention of Tatoine brought back a flood of memories from my motorcycle trip to Tunisia in ’06. And yes, Star Wars was filmed there! We found the abandoned film set (now a small hotel) by complete accident after riding all day in the cold, dark desert.

    Looking forward to more updates from your travels!

  2. I just saw a Pilot Guides episode last night on Morocco and I was thinking of (and envying) you and Julie during the show. The show stated that the mosque had been built entirely by donations; however, I’m sure any fees for a tour all go towards the cost of upkeep. It really looks like quite a magnificent building.

    From my experiences in the Middle East, non-muslims are usually welcome in mosques — just not when prayers are going on. It made a nice change from all the cathedrals I saw in Europe! 😉

  3. Hmm…according to Wikipedia, though, this is one of only two mosques open to non-muslims in Morocco. Perhaps mosques in other countries are less restrictive (or else I just happened to go only to the ones that allowed non-muslims).

  4. Juan: Yeah, I don’t know. The guide book made it sound like it was a universal thing, but that sounded a little peculiar to me. Maybe it’s just in Morocco?

  5. Wa salaam Darren.

    I don’t think there’s any particular rule in Islam that prohibits non-Muslims from entering a mosque, except in 1 instance: Mecca. The Grand Mosque in Mecca can accommodate millions of pilgrims each time.

  6. Actually, it is an Islamic ruling from the Maliki school of thought that non-Muslims are not permitted to enter mosques. It’s true though that Morocco is an exception (along with a few other countries) and not all Maliki countries (Senegal is a strong example) follow this ruling.

    The Hassan II mosque is currently the ONLY mosque in Morocco which permits non-Muslims to visit. The other was the Tin Mal mosque, but it’s closed for repairs.

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