The Holy city of Mecca hosts one of the five pillars of Islam, Hajj, an annual pilgrimage that must be carried out once in the lifetime bf all Muslims who are physically and financially able to. Though the present Hajj was established by the prophet Muhammad in 630 AD, the history of the Hajj dates back to the time of Abraham around 2000 BC, when he supposedly built the Kaaba in 2130 BC.
With just over 1.6 billion Muslims on Earth, this pilgrimage has grown to be the largest gathering of people in the world at a single time and place. In order to meet this incredible demand, the Saudi Arabian Government has commissioned hundreds of new developments near the Kaaba, the most sacred Muslim site in the world and center of annual pilgrimage.
Most notably, the Abraj Al Bait, or Makkah Royal Clock Tower Complex, has been constructed adjacent to the site of the Kaaba as one of the most high profile developments in the world. Rising to 1,972 feet (601 meters) at the hotel tower, the development features the largest clock face in the world, is the third tallest building in the world and the most expensive skyscraper in the world costing $15 billion. With six other towers rising more than 750 feet (230 meters), the complex has more than 1,500 hotel rooms and can help to accommodate the more than 2 million people who journey to Mecca at the busiest time of Hajj.
Soon, the Royal Clock Tower will not be alone in it’s dominance over the skyline of Mecca. The Abraj Kudai Complex will feature 12 separate towers with 10,000 hotel rooms, 70 restaurants, a convention center, shopping mall and of course prayer halls.
Home to the largest building in the world, the Masjid al-Haraj (known as the Sacred or Grand Mosque) covers 88.2 acres, and 1,675,368 people as of the 2010 Census, Mecca is becoming more than just a pilgrimage site. Mecca is becoming one of the most important cities in the world. How will this change the nature of the Hajj? We can only hope that these developments will allow more Muslims to be able to visit their holiest site, spread messages of peace and unity, and continue to amaze us with some of the world’s most iconic architecture.
Check out the New York Times piece on Mecca, Medina, and Pilgrimage as a whole below, and The Urban Developer’s piece on the controversy surrounding the Masjid-al Haraj.