This flamboyant building was built at enormous expense to commemorate the former king's 60th birthday. Set on an outcrop jutting over the ocean and with a 210m-tall minaret that serves as the city's major landmark, it is a showcase of the very best Moroccan artisanship: hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble flooring and inlay, gilded cedar ceilings and exquisite zellij (colourful ceramic tiling) abound. Multilanguage guided tours of the interior are conducted outside prayer times for modestly clad visitors.
The mosque is commonly thought to be the world's third-largest mosque after those in Mecca and Medina, and can accommodate 25,000 worshippers. Built and partially funded by King Hassan II (the remaining funds were gathered through a somewhat controversial public subscription process), the mosque complex was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau, took six years to build and was completed in 1993. Its dramatic location overhanging the ocean waves echoes verse from the Quran, which states that God’s throne was built upon the water. Believers pray on a centrally heated floor, and can see the Atlantic breaking over the rocks underneath the glass floor in the basement and feel the sunlight through the retractable roof.
The size and elaborate decoration of the prayer hall is simply spectacular. A team of more than 6000 master craftspeople was assembled to work on the mosque, delicately carving intricate patterns and designs in cedar from the Middle Atlas and pink granite from Agadir. The gates were made from brass and titanium, and the ablution fountains in the basement, which are shaped like huge lotus flowers, were carved from local marble.
To see the interior visitors must be ‘decently and respectfully dressed’ (knees and upper arms need to be covered); women do not require a headscarf. Hour-long tours are conducted in French, English, German and Spanish, and take in the prayer hall, subterranean ablutions rooms and never-used hammam.