Robin's Adventures

Morocco, Spain, & Portugal
A Picturesque Adventure

The Adventure Begins

Our adventure took us to three countries that were close together geographically, but culturally and architecturally very diverse. During our journey, we had an opportunity to explore old walled cities with narrow cobblestone streets, as well as many unique and picturesque castles, palaces, temples, mosques, churches, and cathedrals that were steeped in history. Best of all, each place that we visited had a fascinating story to tell.

First Stop: Casablanca

Getting to Casablanca was a time consuming experience that involved four airports, a very long (8 hour) layover, and lots of air time. The total air time was 16 1/2 hours, but the journey took about 27 hours.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency which had a great view of the Hassan II mosque and the walled off medina or old town of the city. It was interesting to observe how the modern age had imposed itself onto the oldest part of the city. Almost every building had a satellite dish attached.

Hassan II Mosque

The Hassan II Mosque, which was built around the clock by a huge workforce over a period of just seven years, was completed in 1993. It is the third largest mosque in the world. The 689-foot-tall minaret, which is sixty stories high, is the world's second tallest minaret. The mosque can accommodate 25,000 worshipers inside the mosque and another 80,000 on the grounds outside.

The mosque was built so that it is partially on land and partially on a reinforced platform built over the Atlantic Ocean. The roof, which weighs 1,100 tons and is adorned with tiles made of cast-aluminum, is retractable so that people can worship under the sun or under the stars.

Design Details in the Mosque

More than 6,000 master artisans worked on the carved and painted cedar ceilings, the zellige mosaic tilework, the columns and floors made of stone and marble, and the carved and sculpted plaster moldings that abound in the prayer hall.

The ablution room and public hamman, used for washing and purification prior to prayer, is in the basement. It contains numerous lotus shaped founts made with a special plastering technique which adds egg yolks and black soap into the plaster to make the plaster durable, moldable, and waterproof.

Temple Beth El Synagogue

Prior to the founding of Israel in 1948, there were in the neighborhood of 275,000 Jews living in Morocco. Only about 2,500 Jews remain today and about 2,000 of them live in Casablanca.

Beth El Synagogue, which is noted for its stained glass windows and its white and gilded plaster, is an active synagogue that was renovated in 1997.

Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church

Built in 1956, Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church is one of only two Catholic churches in Casablanca. Noteworthy are the stained-glass windows designed by French artist Gabriel Loire. The windows, which have a red and blue background similar to a typical Moroccan carpet, depict scenes with the Virgin Mary.

The Jewish Museum

The museum building, which served as a Jewish orphanage when it was first built in 1948, was converted to a museum after the orphanage closed in the 1990s. While the collection of artifacts in the museum is not particularly impressive, what is remarkable is that this is the only museum dedicated to Judaism that exists in North Africa and the Middle East.

Colorful Casablanca

The medina in Casablanca is a walled off old town community with narrow pedestrian streets that twist and turn like a maze between the old buildings. Most of the buildings provide homes for an active population, but there are also lots of small shops and businesses that are used by the locals.

Throughout the city, both inside and outside the medina, we noticed two things universally displayed on the buildings: satellite dishes and laundry.

Souks in the Medina

Apparently, you can buy almost anything at the souks in Casablanca's medina. There are an assortment of traditional Moroccan goods for sale alongside all of the necessities for daily life. The shop owners proudly show off their wares and try to convince you to buy. The prices are, of course, negotiable and these entrepreneurs are very willing to bargain.

Here's Looking at you Kid

No trip to Casablanca would be complete without a visit to the famous gin joint from the 1942 classic Hollywood film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

The reality is that the cafe never existed anywhere but a studio film lot in Hollywood. The cafe in Casablanca was built in 2004 by a former American diplomat who remodeled an old Moroccan Riad, or traditional home built around a central courtyard, to recreate Rick's Cafe from the movie.