360 Video of the exterior of the Hassan II Mosque, Marrakech
One of my favorite parts of traveling is seeing awe inspiring ancient structures that make you say “Wow how did they build that in 2000 B.C.E.” or “Wow how many poor builders died falling off those buttresses”. The Hassan II Mosque is one of these monuments with an imposing tower that seems to break the clouds and green tiling that makes it shimmer and match the ocean that breaks against its North side. Its carvings are magnificent and its arches make you feel ant-esque (not to be mistaken with aunt-esque). What breaks its façade of perfection like a small child to a gingerbread house is that it was built in 1993 as basically a tourist attraction. As the king was getting older (and I assume going through his 3 or 4th life crisis) and was faced with the impossible darkness of death (as we all are), he decided he wanted to build a huge mosque as a structure to exemplify Moroccan beauty. Frankly, I think that he could have fulfilled his legacy with a time capsule planted in 5th grade (as I have done) but if I could build the 13th largest mosque in the world I probably would. Ironically, countless tourists visit the Hassan II mosque and view it as an exemplar of mosque-ness, yet it is very un-mosque like. Just as the TSA is sort of performance security the mosque seemed like a performance of Islam and Islamic architecture pandering to the tourists with their Pentax’s stuck in auto. The mosque is organized in a very western style so that it the qibla (direction of prayer) is oriented the long way so that people pray in thin lines down the mosque instead of a wider rectangle closer to the qibla (like a traditional mosque). The theme of three (something that appears endlessly in Christian architecture to represent the holy trinity) is repeated over and over in the mosque from the prayer rows to the tri-opening widows, to how the wall arches in the center isle. The Mosque also butchers classical Islamic architecture. For example, the muqarnas (which are an ancient form of vaulting or supporting domes that is typically found in Islamic architecture) are not used to actually support the dome of the mosque but instead are like oddly geometric, too sugary frosting dripping down a birthday cake. The mosque is still an amazing feat of architecture, but it reinforces our stereotypes and provides us with the familiar and what we can agree with. This is at the least just sort of a sad misrepresentation but at worst can re-affirm our own ignorance.
Written by Leif.