The world is so full of surprises! Returning from Morocco recently, I missed my plane and suddenly found myself having an extra two days to spend in Casablanca. Walking around in the city, admiring the many old art deco buildings, I also came to the central park, Parc de la Ligue Arabe, where people strolled under the large palm trees or had a café au lait in one of the many outdoor restaurants and cafés.
And then, in the mid afternoon, a gigantic white structure on the side of the park caught my attention. Although clearly modern, it also had a strong reminiscence of a gothic cathedral. Getting closer, the building was even more stunning. So many things seemed to come together in contradictory ways in this building: A gothic design in cast concrete. A Christian cathedral in an Islamic country.
The building, Cathédrale du Sacré Coeur, which dates from 1930 was designed by the French architect Paul Tournon. Although not very known outside France, he designed a large number of churches exploring the decorative potential of cast concrete. He was also the director of the Ecole des Beaux-Art in Paris for some time during the Second World War.
While the building’s overall composition is that of a gothic cathedral, it features an expressionist kind of art-deco in its detailing. The cathedral no longer serves its original purpose, but is used for fairs and exhibitions. When I was there it was empty but open. There was even access to the towers which offer a great view of the city.
Because of the surrealism of it all (I guess), seeing this building made me think of Claude Debussy’s piano piece ‘La Cathedrale Engloutie‘…
The chutes in combination with their cast shadows build cruciform elements on the facade.
Panoramic view of the medina of Casablanca and the Atlantic from the tower. Not exactly the kind of environment in which you expect to find a humongous Catholic cathedral.