With a prayer corridor that can accommodate 25,000 individuals, the Mosque of Hassan II is the second-largest religious construction on the planet after the mosque in Mecca. The complex covers 96,840 sq ft (9,000 sq m), with two-thirds of it constructed over the sea. The minaret, the lighthouse of Islam, is 656 ft (200 m) high, and two laser beams reaching over a distance of 18.5 miles (30 km) shine within the direction of Mecca. The construction was designed by Michel Pinseau and it took 35,000 craftsmen to construct it. With carved stucco, zellij tile work, a painted cedarwood ceiling and marble, onyx, and travertine cladding, the mosque is a monument to Moroccan architectural virtuosity.
Moulay Hassan succeeded to the throne of Morocco on the demise of his father in 1961. A skillful politician, he alternated liberalizing policies with repression. He introduced the nation’s first constitution in 1962 and parliamentary elections in 1963, however the road to reform was rocky. When Spain withdrew from the mineral-wealthy Western Sahara in 1975, Hassan initiated the Green March, during which 350,000 civilians crossed the border to assert Morocco’s claim to the area. Spain agreed to the switch of power, but Algerian-backed Polisario Front guerrillas started a violent campaign for independence. A ceasefire was agreed to in 1991. Hassan II died in 1999.
The waterfront Mosque of Hassan II is the crowning glory of the king’s reign. Constructed for his sixtieth birthday, the mosque was primarily financed by donations from the Moroccan folks. Inside, the large marble-floored prayer corridor sparkles in the glow of Venetian chandeliers. Cedarwood from Morocco’s Middle Atlas range has been shaped and carved to form doors and screens and the paneling of 70 cupolas. Even the sliding roof is painted and gilded. The hammam (traditional bathhouse) is under the prayer corridor.