STAYING AFLOAT goes to Casablanca, Morocco

8 May 2013

During my trip to Morocco last week, I was especially awed by the majestic Hassan II Mosque – a must-see when visiting Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco at a congested 3.2 million residents. The mosque is the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th largest in the world, depending on which reference guide is used to quote the ranking. Suffice it to say, it is grandiose and certainly one of the most beautiful mosques in the world.

The mosque sits on a promontory fronting the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of very few mosques that is not closed off to people who are not of Muslim faith. Visitors of all faiths are provided a scheduled guided tour inside the grand building – for a fee of €12 ($15) per non-Muslim adult.

Numbers paint a picture. The Hassan II Mosque is capable of accommodating 105,000 worshippers for prayer – 25,000 inside the mosque and 80,000 on the outside courtyard. The Prayer Hall is large enough to house Rome’s St. Peters or Paris’ Notre Dame. The 60-story minaret is the world’s tallest at 210m (690 feet). A laser light mounted on top of the minaret is directed towards Makkah (formerly called Mecca) 4,832 km (3,000 miles) to the east.

Construction of the mosque was completed in 1993 at an estimated cost of €585 million ($780 million). Because Morocco is a poor country and its government lacked the funds for the project, every Moroccan family was required to pay a less-than-voluntary set amount, enforced by the police, to finance construction. To build the mosque, it was necessary to destroy a large, impoverished section of Casablanca. The residents did not receive any compensation – perceived as their contribution to the structure.

As a building contractor, I’m always interested in construction techniques. I was particularly interested in how the saltwater might affect the mosque’s concrete foundation that bordered the ocean. I later learned that structural deterioration in the concrete wall was observed in 2003, ten years after the mosque’s completion. Sure enough, the damage was attributed to exposure to the saltwater of the Atlantic, into which nearly half of the mosque’s foundation projects. Saltwater had migrated into the porous concrete causing rusting of the steel rebar reinforcements resulting in expansion of the steel and, in turn, cracking of the concrete. I was told that extensive restoration work was instituted in April 2005 at an estimated cost of €50 million ($65 million) to effectively extend the mosque’s lifespan another 100 years.

More information:

STAYING AFLOAT – Three Years in Abu Dhabi is a colorful, witty, and insightful memoir of my experiences as an American expat while working and living in Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

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