10 October 2013

From Rabat to Marrakech via Casablanca

This was another day of travelling, this time down from Rabat to Marrakech which was to be our base for the next few days. This meant passing through Casablanca and we could not do that without pausing to see The Hassan II Mosque which is staggering.

I thought that it was staggering when I visited it in 2007 and I thought so again in 2013.

The mosque impresses in several ways.

The setting is magnificent. It sits next to the sea, and is partially built over it, and has a large square in front of. This absence of anything else near it emphasises its scale.

The headline figures is that it can accommodate 20,000 men inside on the ground floor and 5,000 women on the raised level. Another 80,000 can fit in the square outside.

For once I've deliberately included people in some of the pictures so show its size. It kept reminding me of the enormous buildings drawn by Philippe Druillet in his fantastic stories like Urm the Mad.

The building works just as well on the small scale too and meticulous attention was paid to the detail throughout. Everywhere is spectacularly pretty as well as spectacularly large.

The second main space is the wash room situated below the central hall. It has rows of mushrooms where worshippers can prepare by washing their arms and faces.

Even in this functional space the decoration is grand from floor to ceiling.

The external space is just as grand and just as pretty. The grandeur or the mosque grabs you first and as you get closer the detail becomes more obvious and more impressive.

For example, beneath the large arch on the left you can see a green line on the ground. This is a fountain. Or rather a collection of small fountains in a geometric pattern. It the sort of fountain that if placed by itself in the centre of a town would attract much admiration and would have hordes of tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of it. Here it is so swamped by the building next to it that it could be overlooked completely.

The minaret is the focal point and easily lives up to its starring role with oodles of intricate decorative plaster and geometric ceramics. It is gorgeous and that is my excuse for taking about twenty very similar pictures of it!

Having feasted on the beauty of the mosque it was time to move on. We had made the relatively short trip from Rabat to Casablanca (just under 100km) by coach and we returned to the train for the leg to Marrakech (about 250km).

The route took us away from the coast for the first time and that meant a remarkable change to the landscape. We were also moving that much further south. We were not in the desert, that is on the other side of the mountains, but it looked much like one for most of the time.

Morocco's main industry is agriculture and this is fed by the many rivers flowing off the mountings (snow-melt provides water all summer) with olives and the like growing in the drier parts.

We stopped a few times, mostly at little stations like this. Unfortunately I had no idea of the timetable so was cautious of venturing too far away from the door to take photos. This was not a place I wanted to be stranded in.

The journey was hot and the train's air conditioning struggled to reduce the temperature in the compartment to anything bearable. Luckily there were some options and I spent quite a bit of time either in the corridor which had something of a breeze because of the train's movement and also some time by an open door (when moving!) where there was even more of a breeze.

The discomfort of the travel was more than compensated for by the views. The desert scene may have lacked much of specific interest but its contrast with what I was used to was great and that was enough interest of itself.

The ride was some four hours long and we arrived in Marrakech as the sun was setting, as we tended to on the holiday (that's good planning). There was just enough time for a good dinner in hotel and a walk through its extensive grounds before settling down for a good rest in anticipation of seeing the heart of the city the next day.

The main point of the day was to get us to Marrakech, which we did, and we had the considerable bonus of a couple of hours in Casablanca and an interesting, if warm, train ride.

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