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Enchanting Morocco: Where ancient and modern converge

BY: Jojo Sam
The Morocco Mall
The Morocco Mall

I consider travelling to Morocco a golden opportunity to discover two thousand years of its history, culture and amazing tourist destinations. And, I have fallen in love with that astonishingly beautiful country since then.

I was part of a 10-member Ghanaian delegation that undertook a six-day trip to Morocco organised and sponsored by Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan national airline. The group comprised travel agents, a journalist and a blogger. It was arranged to offer the delegation the opportunity to experience flavours of the booming Moroccan tourism market at first hand and for the team to advertise and promote Morocco to prospective Ghanaians wishing to travel abroad. The visit which also coincided with the airline’s 60th anniversary celebrations was in addition targeted at strengthening the existing bonds of friendship and engagements between the airline and its partners in Ghana.

Morocco, a country of 36 million people, is a mixture of Berbers - who are the original settlers, Arabs and Europeans. The country’s economic resources include phosphate, agriculture, textiles and tourism. Tourism in Morocco is well developed with attention focused mainly at uncovering the country's beautifully diverse culture, fascinating and attractive coastline and to narrate its rich history. The team from Ghana had the privilege of visiting three prominent cities in Morocco, namely; Casablanca, Marrakech and Agadir.

 The Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church

Casablanca

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We took off to Morocco about 2.00 a.m. from Accra and arrived in Casablanca early morning at 6.00am. Right after check-in at the Farrah Safir Hotel, we hit the ground running, eager to taste, smell and savour the seductive Casablanca we had seen from the air. Originally called Anfa, Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco with a population of five million people. According to our tour guide on the trip, while traces of human settlement in Casablanca dated back more than 600,000 years, the city regarded as the commercial and industrial capital of Morocco, has mostly developed during the last 100 years.

Casablanca is replete with modern and contemporary art galleries that are either privately owned or owned by large institutions. The city also boasts a collection of museums founded by enthusiasts eager to share some of the cultural roots of the city. The city takes pride in its classic architectural buildings denoting different genres from French to Jewish and to Moroccan and lots of monuments some dating back to the middle ages.

Among places of interest in Casablanca not to be missed is the United Nations Square, a large square in the centre of the city, surrounded by buildings of modern architecture. Then, there is also the Notre Dame de Lourdes Church, an enormous edifice built in the 1950’s. The building’s architecture is breathtaking in its design and elaborately complicated stained-glass windows. It is said to be one of the biggest Catholic churches ever built in the Maghreb region.

Hassan II Mosque

King Haasan II Mosque

A tour of Casablanca will not be complete without a visit to the Hassan II Mosque. It is the largest Mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world. The Minaret of the mosque is the tallest in the world at 210 metres high-comparable to 36 storeys, topped with a laser whose light is directed towards the direction of Mecca in the east.

Work on this gigantic masterpiece, which has about two acres of its grounds built on a headland jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, was begun in 1980 and inaugurated 1993 and it is said to have cost an estimated $800 million to construct. The walls are of hand-crafted marble and the complete roof is retractable within three minutes. A maximum of 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer: 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 in the mosque's courtyard.
We also visited the Mohammed V square with its picturesque scenes of waterfalls and pigeons that do not mind eating from the palms of visitors. It is a perfect setting for people who love the outdoor and excitement. The team also drove through the Ain Diab route noted for its lovely beaches. Casablanca has 22 kilometres of lovely beaches a sizeable portion of which are privately owned.

New Medina

Other places the team visited included the Harbours Quarter, also known as the New Medina (Medina means town). It was an ancient habitation that was razed down and rebuilt by the French in the 1930s and so has a mixture of both French and Moroccan architecture. We visited also the Morocco Shopping Mall, which is reputed to be the largest in the country, and draws attention to Casablanca as a veritable shopping destination. We toured the Anfa palace, which is the King’s residence of old and now a museum. The building has intricately mosaic designs on its walls in combination with flamboyantly crafted stuccos in multiples of colours so fascinating to behold.
Besides all else, Casablanca also has a vibrant and bubbly night life and lovely cuisine. The team ended the day’s tour at Le Boudoir, an upscale restaurant, where we enjoyed a sumptuous Moroccan meal. There are restaurants everywhere you turn that serve juicy Moroccan and international dishes. It was quite an eye-opener to discover that in Morocco the menu in restaurants, be they breakfast, lunch or dinner come with an accompaniment of Moroccan bread.

All these on day one, which left the team fatigued but nonetheless very satisfied guests who looked forward eagerly to the rest of the days before us.