Mecca,[lower-alpha 1] also spelled Makkah, is a city in the Hejazi region of Saudi Arabia.[7] The city is located 70 km (43 mi) inland from Jeddah, in a narrow valley 277 m (909 ft) above sea level, 340 kilometres (210 mi) south of Medina, its population in 2012 was 2 million, although visitors more than triple this number every year during the Ḥajj ("Pilgrimage"), held in the twelfth Muslim lunar month of Dhūl-Ḥijjah.


Makkah (مَكَّة)[1]

Bakkah (بَكَّة)
Makkah al-Mukarramah (مَكَّة ٱلْمُكَرَّمَة)
Umm al-Qurā (أُمّ ٱلْقُرَى,[2][3] "Mother of all Settlements")[4]
Clockwise from top left: Jabal al-Nour, the Kaaba in the Great Mosque of Mecca (prior to the completion of the Abraj Al-Bait), overview of central Mecca, Mina and the modern Jamaraat Bridge
Location of Mecca
Mecca (Middle East)
Mecca (Asia)
Coordinates: 21°25′21″N 39°49′34″E
Country Saudi Arabia
RegionMakkah Region
  MayorOsama al-Bar
  Provincial GovernorKhalid bin Faisal Al Saud
  City760 km2 (290 sq mi)
850 km2 (330 sq mi)
1,200 km2 (500 sq mi)
277 m (909 ft)
  Density2,200/km2 (5,700/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+3 (AST)
Area code(s)(+966) 12

It is the birthplace of Muhammad, a cave 3 km (2 mi) from Mecca was the site of Muhammad's first revelation of the Quran,[8][9] and a pilgrimage to it, known as the Hajj, is obligatory for all able Muslims. Mecca is home to the Kaaba, one of Islam's holiest sites and the direction of Muslim prayer, and thus Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in Islam.[10]

Mecca was long ruled by Muhammad's descendants, the sharifs, acting either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger polities. It was conquered by Ibn Saud in 1925; since then Mecca has seen a tremendous expansion in size and infrastructure, such as the Abraj Al Bait, also known as the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, the world's fourth tallest building and the building with the third largest amount of floor area, and lost some historical structures and archaeological sites, such as the Ajyad Fortress.[11][12][13] Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the city.[14][15]

Etymology and usage

"Mecca" is the familiar form of the English transliteration for the Arabic name of the city, although the official transliteration used by the Saudi government is Makkah, which is closer to the Arabic pronunciation.[16][17] The word "Mecca" in English has come to be used to refer to any place that draws large numbers of people, and because of this some English speaking Muslims have come to regard the use of this spelling for the city as offensive.[16] The Saudi government adopted Makkah as the official spelling in the 1980s, but is not universally known or used worldwide.[16] The full official name is Makkah al-Mukarramah (مَكَّة ٱلْمُكَرَّمَة) or Makkatu l-Mukarramah (مَكَّةُ ٱلْمُكَرَّمَة, [ˈmæk.kæl mʊkarˈrama, ˈmæk.kætʊl-]), which means "Mecca the Honored", but is also loosely translated as "The Holy City of Mecca".[16]

The ancient or early name for the site of Mecca is Bakkah (بَكَّة,[18] also transliterated Baca, Baka, Bakah, Bakka, Becca, Bekka, etc.).[19][20][21] An Arabic word, its etymology, like that of Mecca, is obscure.[22] Widely believed to be a synonym for Mecca, it is said to be more specifically the early name for the valley located therein, while Muslim scholars generally use it to refer to the sacred area of the city that immediately surrounds and includes the Kaaba.[18][23] This form is used for the name Mecca in the Quran in 3:96, while the form Mecca is used in 48:24.[22][4] In South Arabic, the language in use in the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muhammad, the b and m were interchangeable. Other references to Mecca in the Quran (6:92,[2] 42:5)[3] call it Umm al-Qurā (أُمّ ٱلْقُرَى, meaning "Mother of all Settlements"[4] / "Mother of the Villages". Another name of Mecca is Tihāmah.[24]

Another name for Mecca, or the wilderness and mountains surrounding it, according to Arab and Islamic tradition, is Faran or Pharan, referring to the Desert of Paran mentioned in the Old Testament at Genesis 21:21.[25] Arab and Islamic tradition holds that the wilderness of Paran, broadly speaking, is the Tihamah and the site where Ishmael settled was Mecca.[25] Yaqut al-Hamawi, the 12th century Syrian geographer, wrote that Fārān was "an arabized Hebrew word, one of the names of Mecca mentioned in the Torah."[26]


Mecca is governed by the Municipality of Mecca, a municipal council of fourteen locally elected members headed by a mayor (called Al-Amin) appointed by the Saudi government. As of May 2015, the mayor of the city was Dr. Osama bin Fadhel Al-Bar.[27][28]

Mecca is the capital of the Makkah Region, which includes neighboring Jeddah. The provincial governor was prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from 2000 until his death in 2007.[29] On 16 May 2007, prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud was appointed as the new governor.[30]


Early history

Mecca, as seen from Jabal al-Nour, 2009
1787 Ottoman Turkish map of Al-Haram Mosque, and related religious sites, such as Jabal al-Nour

The early history of Mecca is still largely disputed, as there are no unambiguous references to it in ancient literature prior to the rise of Islam.[31] The Roman Empire took control of part of the Hejaz in 106 CE,[32] ruling cities such as Hegra (now known as Mada'in Saleh), located to the north of Mecca. Even though detailed descriptions were established of Western Arabia by Rome, such as by Procopius, there are no references of a pilgrimage and trading outpost such as Mecca.[33] The first direct mention of Mecca in external literature occurs in 741 CE, in the Byzantine-Arab Chronicle, though here the author places it in Mesopotamia rather than the Hejaz.[33]

Given the inhospitable environment,[34] and lack of historical references in Roman, Persian and Indian sources, historians including Patricia Crone and Tom Holland have cast doubt on the claim that Mecca was a major historical trading outpost.[34][35] However, other scholars such as Glen W. Bowersock disagree and assert that Mecca was a major trading outpost.[36][37][38]

Potential ancient references

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus writes about Arabia in his work Bibliotheca historica, describing a holy shrine: "And a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians".[39] Claims have been made this could be a reference to the Kaaba in Mecca. However, the geographic location Diodorus describes is located in northwest Arabia, around the area of Leuke Kome, closer to Petra and within the former Nabataean Kingdom and Rome's Arabia Petraea.[40][41][42]

Ptolemy lists the names of 50 cities in Arabia, one going by the name of "Macoraba". There has been speculation since 1646 that this is could be a reference to Mecca, but many scholars see no compelling explanation to link the two names.[43] Bowersock favours the identity of these two places, with "Macoraba" being Makkah followed by an aggrandizing Aramaic adjective rabb (great), similar to the modern Arabic custom of officially calling the city Makkah al-Mukarramah (Mecca the Noble). The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus also enumerated many cities of Western Arabia, most of whom can be identified. According to Bowersock, he did mention Mecca as "Geapolis" or "Hierapolis", the latter one meaning "holy city", referring to the sanctuary of the Kaaba, well known already in pagan times.[44] Patricia Crone, from the Revisionist school of Islamic studies on the other hand, writes that "the plain truth is that the name Macoraba has nothing to do with that of Mecca ... if Ptolemy mentions Mecca at all, he calls it Moka, a town in Arabia Petraea"[45] (in northern Arabia near present day Petra).

Islamic view

In the Islamic view, the beginnings of Mecca are attributed to the Biblical figures Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. The civilization of Mecca is believed to have started after Ibrāhīm (Abraham) brought his son Ismāʿīl (Ishmael) and wife Hājar (Hagar) here, for the latter two to stay. Some people from the Yemeni tribe of Jurhum settled with them, and Isma'il reportedly married two women, one after divorcing another, at least one of them from this tribe, and helped his father to construct or re-construct the Ka'bah ('Cube'),[46][18][47] which would have social, religious, political and historical implications for the site and region.[48][49][48][49]

Muslims see the Old Testament chapter Psalm 84:3–6, and a mention of a pilgrimage at the Valley of Baca, that as referring to the mentioning of Mecca as Bakkah in Quran's Surah 3:96.[18] Some time in the 5th century, the Kaaba was a place of worship for the deities of Arabia's pagan tribes. Mecca's most important pagan deity was Hubal, which had been placed there by the ruling Quraysh tribe[50][51] and remained until the 7th century.

In the Sharḥ al-Asāṭīr, a commentary on the Samaritan midrashic chronology of the Patriarchs, of unknown date but probably composed in the tenth century C.E., it is claimed that Mecca was built by the sons of Nebaioth, the eldest son of Ishmael.[52][53][54]

In the 5th century, the Quraysh took control of Mecca, and became skilled merchants and traders. In the 6th century they joined the lucrative spice trade, since battles elsewhere were diverting trade routes from dangerous sea routes to more secure overland routes. The Byzantine Empire had previously controlled the Red Sea, but piracy had been increasing. Another previous route that ran through the Persian Gulf via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was also being threatened by exploitations from the Sassanid Empire, and was being disrupted by the Lakhmids, the Ghassanids, and the Roman–Persian Wars. Mecca's prominence as a trading center also surpassed the cities of Petra and Palmyra.[55][56] The Sassanids however did not always pose a threat to Mecca, as in 575 CE they protected Mecca city from invasion by the Kingdom of Axum, led by its Christian leader Abraha. The tribes of southern Arabia asked the Persian king Khosrau I for aid, in response to which he came south to Arabia with foot-soldiers and a fleet of ships into Mecca. The Persian intervention prevented Christianity from spreading eastward into Arabia, and Mecca and the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who was at the time six years old in the Quraysh tribe, "would not grow up under the cross."[57]

By the middle of the 6th century, there were three major settlements in northern Arabia, all along the south-western coast that borders the Red Sea, in a habitable region between the sea and the great mountains to the east. Although the area around Mecca was completely barren, it was the wealthiest of the three settlements with abundant water via the renowned Zamzam Well and a position at the crossroads of major caravan routes.[58]

The harsh conditions and terrain of the Arabian peninsula meant a near-constant state of conflict between the local tribes, but once a year they would declare a truce and converge upon Mecca in an annual pilgrimage. Up to the 7th century, this journey was intended for religious reasons by the pagan Arabs to pay homage to their shrine, and to drink from the Zamzam Well. However, it was also the time each year that disputes would be arbitrated, debts would be resolved, and trading would occur at Meccan fairs. These annual events gave the tribes a sense of common identity and made Mecca an important focus for the peninsula.[59]

The "Year of the Elephant" is the name in Islamic history for the year approximately equating to 570 CE. According to Islamic tradition, it was in this year that Muhammad was born.[60] The name is derived from an event said to have occurred at Mecca. According to early Islamic historians such as Ibn Ishaq, Abraha, the Christian ruler of Yemen, which was subject to the Kingdom of Aksum of Ethiopia, built a great church at Sanaa known as al-Qullays in honor of the Aksumite king Negus. It gained widespread fame, even gaining the notice of the Byzantine Empire.[60] Abraha attempted to divert the pilgrimage of Arab people from Kaaba to al-Qullays and appointed a man named Muhammad ibn Khuza'i to Mecca and Tihamah as a king with a message that al-Qullays was both much better than other houses of worship and purer, having not been defiled by the housing of idols.[60] When Muhammad ibn Khuza'i got as far as the land of Kinana, the people of the lowland, knowing what he had come for, sent a man of Hudhayl called ʿUrwa bin Hayyad al-Milasi, who shot him with an arrow, killing him. His brother Qays who was with him fled to Abraha and told him the news, which increased his rage and fury and he swore to raid the Kinana tribe and destroy the temple. Ibn Ishaq further states that one of the men of the Qurayshi tribe was angered by this, and going to Sana'a, slipped into the church at night and defiled it; it is widely assumed that they did so by defecating in it. Abraha[61][62] marched upon the Kaaba with a large army, which included one or more war elephants, intending to demolish it. When news of the advance of Abraha's army came, the Arab tribes of the Quraysh, Banu Kinanah, Banu Khuza'a and Banu Hudhayl united in defense of the Kaaba. A man from the Himyarite Kingdom was sent by Abraha to advise them that Abraha only wished to demolish the Kaaba and if they resisted, they would be crushed. Abdul Muttalib told the Meccans to seek refuge in the hills while he with some leading members of the Quraysh remained within the precincts of the Kaaba. Abraha sent a dispatch inviting Abdul-Muttalib to meet with Abraha and discuss matters. When Abdul-Muttalib left the meeting he was heard saying, "The Owner of this House is its Defender, and I am sure he will save it from the attack of the adversaries and will not dishonor the servants of His House." Abraha attacked Mecca. However, the lead elephant, known as Mahmud,[63] is said to have stopped at the boundary around Mecca and refused to enter. It has been theorized that an epidemic such as by smallpox could have caused such a failed invasion of Mecca.[64] The reference to the story in Qur'an is rather short. According to the Surah of Al-Fil, the next day, [as Abraha prepared to enter the city], a dark cloud of small birds sent by Allah appeared. The birds carried small rocks in their beaks, and bombarded the Ethiopian forces and smashed them like "eaten straw".[65]

Camel caravans, said to have first been used by Muhammad's great-grandfather, were a major part of Mecca's bustling economy. Alliances were struck between the merchants in Mecca and the local nomadic tribes, who would bring goods – leather, livestock, and metals mined in the local mountains – to Mecca to be loaded on the caravans and carried to cities in Shaam and Iraq.[66] Historical accounts also provide some indication that goods from other continents may also have flowed through Mecca. Goods from Africa and the Far East passed through en route to Syria including spices, leather, medicine, cloth, and slaves; in return Mecca received money, weapons, cereals and wine, which in turn were distributed throughout Arabia. The Meccans signed treaties with both the Byzantines and the Bedouins, and negotiated safe passages for caravans, giving them water and pasture rights. Mecca became the center of a loose confederation of client tribes, which included those of the Banu Tamim. Other regional powers such as the Abyssinian, Ghassan, and Lakhm were in decline leaving Meccan trade to be the primary binding force in Arabia in the late 6th century.[59]

Thamudic inscriptions

Some Thamudic inscriptions which were discovered in the south Jordan contained names of some individuals such as ʿAbd Mekkat (عَبْد مَكَّة, "Servant of Mecca").[67]

There were also some other inscriptions which contained personal names such as Makky (مَكِّي, "Meccan"), but Jawwad Ali from the University of Baghdad suggested that there's also a probability of a tribe named "Mecca".[68]

Islamic tradition

According to Islamic tradition, the history of Mecca goes back to Abraham (Ibrahim), who built the Kaaba with the help of his elder son Ishmael in around 2000 BCE, when the inhabitants of the site then known as Bakkah had fallen away from the original monotheism of Abraham through the influence of the Amalekites.[69]

Muhammad and conquest of Mecca

Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570, and thus Islam has been inextricably linked with it ever since. He was born in a minor faction, the Hashemites, of the ruling Quraysh tribe. It was in Mecca, in the nearby mountain cave of Hira on Jabal al-Nour, that, according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad began receiving divine revelations from God through the Archangel Gabriel in 610 AD, and advocated his form of Abrahamic monotheism against Meccan paganism. After enduring persecution from the pagan tribes for 13 years, Muhammad emigrated (see Hijrah) in 622 with his companions, the Muhajirun, to Yathrib (later called Medina). The conflict between the Quraysh and the Muslims, however, continued: The two fought in the Battle of Badr, where the Muslims defeated the Quraysh outside Medina; while the Battle of Uhud ended indecisively. Overall, Meccan efforts to annihilate Islam failed and proved to be costly and unsuccessful. During the Battle of the Trench in 627, the combined armies of Arabia were unable to defeat Muhammad's forces.[70]

In 628, Muhammad and his followers wanted to enter Mecca for pilgrimage, but were blocked by the Quraysh. Subsequently, Muslims and Meccans entered into the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, whereby the Quraysh promised to cease fighting Muslims and promised that Muslims would be allowed into the city to perform the pilgrimage the following year. It was meant to be a ceasefire for 10 years. However, just two years later, the Quraysh violated the truce by slaughtering a group of Muslims and their allies. Muhammad and his companions, now 10,000 strong, marched into Mecca. However, instead of continuing their fight, the city of Mecca surrendered to Muhammad, who declared peace and amnesty for its inhabitants. The pagan imagery was destroyed by Muhammad's followers and the location Islamized and rededicated to the worship of God. Mecca was declared as the holiest site in Islam ordaining it as the center of Muslim pilgrimage, one of the faith's Five Pillars. Then, Muhammad returned to Medina, after assigning Akib ibn Usaid as governor of the city. His other activities in Arabia led to the unification of the peninsula.[55][70]

Muhammad died in 632, but with the sense of unity that he had passed on to his Ummah (Islamic nation), Islam began a rapid expansion, and within the next few hundred years stretched from North Africa into Asia and parts of Europe. As the Islamic Empire grew, Mecca continued to attract pilgrims from all across the Muslim world and beyond, as Muslims came to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Mecca also attracted a year-round population of scholars, pious Muslims who wished to live close to the Kaaba, and local inhabitants who served the pilgrims. Due to the difficulty and expense of the Hajj, pilgrims arrived by boat at Jeddah, and came overland, or joined the annual caravans from Syria or Iraq.

Medieval and pre-modern times

Mecca was never the capital of any of the Islamic states but Muslim rulers did contribute to its upkeep. During the reigns of Umar (634–644 CE) and Uthman ibn Affan (644–656) concerns of flooding caused the caliphs to bring in Christian engineers to build barrages in the low-lying quarters and construct dykes and embankments to protect the area round the Kaaba.[55]

Muhammad's migration to Medina shifted the focus away from Mecca. This focus moved still more when Ali, the fourth caliph, took power choosing Kufa as his capital. The Umayyad Caliphate moved the capital to Damascus in Syria and the Abbasid Caliphate to Baghdad, in modern-day Iraq, which remained the center of the Islamic Empire for nearly 500 years. Mecca re-entered Islamic political history during the Second Islamic Civil War, when it was held by Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who opposed the Umayyad caliphs. The city was twice besieged by the Umayyads, in 683 and 692. For some time thereafter the city figured little in politics, remaining a city of devotion and scholarship governed by the Hashemite Sharifs.

In 930, Mecca was attacked and sacked by Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim sect led by Abū-Tāhir Al-Jannābī and centered in eastern Arabia.[71] The Black Death pandemic hit Mecca in 1349.[72]

In 1517, the Sharif, Barakat bin Muhammed, acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottoman Caliph but retained a great degree of local autonomy.[73]

In 1803 the city was captured by the First Saudi State,[74] which held Mecca until 1813. This was a massive blow to the prestige of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire, which had exercised sovereignty over the holy city since 1517. The Ottomans assigned the task of bringing Mecca back under Ottoman control to their powerful Khedive (viceroy) of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha. Muhammad Ali Pasha successfully returned Mecca to Ottoman control in 1813.

In 1818, followers of the Salafi juristic school were again defeated, but some of the Al Saud clan survived and founded the Second Saudi State that lasted until 1891 and led on to the present country of Saudi Arabia.

Mecca was regularly hit by cholera outbreaks. Between 1830 and 1930 cholera broke out among pilgrims at Mecca 27 times.[75]

Ibn Battuta description of Mecca

One of the world travelers to Mecca in the fifteenth century was Ibn Battuta. In his travels, he provides us with an important description of the city. Around the year 729, Ibn Battuta arrived in Mecca. Immediately when Battuta arrived in Mecca it felt like a holy sanctuary and thus he started the rites of the pilgrimage. He remained in Mecca for a couple of years. During Battuta's second year there, his caravan arrived "with a great quantity of alms for the support of those who were staying in Mecca and Medina" (p. 51). Giving these alms to the poor also helped to fulfill another pillar of faith, while he was also fulfilling the pillar of making the Pilgrimage to Mecca. While in Mecca, prayers were made for the King of Irak and then also for El Melik El Nasir. The prayers were made in the Temple of Mecca. This temple is very large, but was also destroyed once and was rebuilt a little bit smaller than the original. The temple also contained images of angels, prophets, Jesus, his mother Mary and many others. This temple is one of the most important parts of Mecca due to the fact that many people make the pilgrimage to Mecca for the purpose of going to the temple. The people of Mecca were also an important aspect of the village. They were described as being humble and kind, also willing to give a part of everything they had to someone who had nothing. The inhabitants of Mecca and the village itself was very clean. There was also a sense of elegance to the village. Ibn Battuta spent about three years in Mecca before he left with intentions of moving on to Yemen. Mecca nowadays is a lot different than Battuta saw it, but it still is a place of holiness. The city has become more advanced with new technology, but along with new skyscrapers and event centers, it still contains temples that are important for the pilgrimages to Mecca.[76]

Revolt of the Sharif of Mecca

In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was at war with Britain and its allies, having sided with Germany. It had successfully repulsed an attack on Istanbul in the Gallipoli Campaign and on Baghdad in the Siege of Kut. The British agent T.E. Lawrence conspired with the Ottoman governor Hussain bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca. Hussein bin Ali revolted against the Ottoman Empire from Mecca, and it was the first city captured by his forces in the Battle of Mecca (1916). Sharif's revolt proved a turning point of the war on the eastern front. Sharif Hussein declared a new state, the Kingdom of Hejaz, and declared Mecca as the capital of the new kingdom.

News reports in November 1916[77] via contact in Cairo with returning Hajj pilgrims, said that with the Ottoman Turkish authorities gone, Mecca at Hajj 1916 was thankfully free of the previous massive extortion and illegal money-demanding by Turks who were agents of the Ottoman government.

Saudi Arabia

Following the 1924 Battle of Mecca, the Sharif of Mecca was overthrown by the Saud family, and Mecca was incorporated into Saudi Arabia.[78]

Under Saudi rule, much of the historic city has been demolished as a result of construction programs – see below. On 20 November 1979 two hundred armed Islamist dissidents led by Saudi preacher Juhayman al-Otaibi seized the Grand Mosque. They claimed that the Saudi royal family no longer represented pure Islam and that the Masjid al-Haram (The Sacred Mosque) and the Kaaba, must be held by those of true faith. The rebels seized tens of thousands of pilgrims as hostages and barricaded themselves in the mosque. The siege lasted two weeks, and resulted in several hundred deaths and significant damage to the shrine, especially the Safa-Marwa gallery. Pakistani forces carried out the final assault; they were assisted with weapons, logistics and planning by an elite team of French commandos from the French GIGN commando unit.[79]

The Great Mosque’s expansion

The first expansion project undertaken by the Saudi government was launched during King Abdulaziz era.[80] However, the first real expansion was undertaken by King Saud Bin AbdulAziz Al Saud in 1956.[81] The second expansion took place during the era of King Fahad bin Abdulaziz. The project was launched in 1988 by the late Saudi King Fahad bin Abdulaziz. By the end of this expansion, the great mosque had the capacity to accommodate one, and a half Million Worshippers.[82] The third expansion took place during King Abdullah Bin AbdulAziz Al Saud era as the mosque was able to accommodate around two million.[80] Lately, the current Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz has planned a $100 billion expansion project with an aim to accommodate 30 million pilgrims by 2030.[83]

Destruction of historic buildings

Under Saudi rule, it has been estimated that since 1985 about 95% of Mecca's historic buildings, most over a thousand years old, have been demolished.[11][84]

Historic sites of religious importance which have been destroyed by the Saudis include five of the renowned "Seven Mosques" initially built by Muhammad's daughter and four of his "greatest Companions": Masjid Abu Bakr, Masjid Salman al-Farsi, Masjid Umar ibn al-Khattab, Masjid Sayyida Fatima bint Rasulullah and Masjid Ali ibn Abu Talib.[85]

It has been reported that there are now fewer than 20 structures remaining in Mecca that date back to the time of Muhammad. Other buildings that have been destroyed include the house of Khadijah, the wife of Muhammad, demolished to make way for public lavatories; the house of Abu Bakr, Muhammad's companion, now the site of the local Hilton hotel; the house of Muhammad's grandson Ali-Oraid and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, now the location of the King's palace in Mecca; Muhammad's birthplace, demolished to make way for a library; and the Ottoman-era Ajyad Fortress, demolished for construction of the Abraj Al Bait Towers.[86]

The reason for much of the destruction of historic buildings has been for the construction of hotels, apartments, parking lots, and other infrastructure facilities for Hajj pilgrims. However, many have been destroyed without any such reason. For example, when the house of Ali-Oraid was discovered, King Fahd himself ordered that it be bulldozed lest it should become a pilgrimage site.[84]


The pilgrimage to Mecca attracts millions of Muslims from all over the world. There are two pilgrimages: the Hajj and the Umrah. The Hajj, the 'greater' pilgrimage is performed annually in Mecca and nearby sites. During the Hajj, several million people of varying nationalities worship in unison. Every adult, healthy Muslim who has the financial and physical capacity to travel to Mecca and can make arrangements for the care of his/her dependents during the trip, must perform the Hajj at least once in a lifetime. Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, is not obligatory, but is recommended in the Qur'an.[87] Often, they perform the Umrah while visiting Al-Haram Mosque.

Incidents during pilgrimage

Mecca has been the site of several incidents and failures of crowd control because of the large numbers of people who come to make the Hajj.[88][89][90] For example, on 2 July 1990, a pilgrimage to Mecca ended in tragedy when the ventilation system failed in a crowded pedestrian tunnel and 1,426 people were either suffocated or trampled to death in a stampede.[91] On 24 September 2015, 700 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at Mina during the stoning-the-Devil ritual at Jamarat.[92]


Mecca is at an elevation of 277 m (909 ft) above sea level, and approximately 80 km (50 mi) inland from the Red Sea.[58] Central Mecca lies in a corridor between mountains, which is often called the "Hollow of Mecca". The area contains the valley of Al Taneem, the Valley of Bakkah and the valley of Abqar.[55][93] This mountainous location has defined the contemporary expansion of the city. The city centers on the Masjid al-Haram area, which is lower than most of the city. The area around the mosque is the old city. The main avenues are Al-Mudda'ah and Sūq al-Layl to the north of the mosque, and As-Sūg Assaghīr to the south. As the Saudis expanded the Grand Mosque in the center of the city, hundreds of houses were replaced by wide avenues and city squares. Traditional homes are built of local rock and are generally two to three stories. The total area of Mecca today is over 1,200 km2 (460 sq mi).[94]

In pre-modern Mecca, the city used a few chief sources of water. The first were local wells, such as the Zamzam Well, that produced generally brackish water. The second source was the spring of Ayn Zubayda. The sources of this spring are the mountains of J̲abal Saʿd (Jabal Sa'd) and Jabal Kabkāb, which are a few kilometers east of Jabal Arafa or about 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Mecca. Water was transported from it using underground channels. A very sporadic third source was rainfall which was stored by the people in small reservoirs or cisterns. The rainfall, scant as it is, also presents the threat of flooding and has been a danger since earliest times. According to Al-Kurdī, there had been 89 historic floods by 1965, including several in the Saudi period. In the last century the most severe flood was in 1942. Since then, dams have been build to ameliorate this problem.[93]



Mecca features a hot desert climate. Like most Saudi Arabian cities, Mecca retains warm to hot temperatures even in winter, which can range from 18 °C (64 °F) at night to 30 °C (86 °F) in the afternoon. Summer temperatures are extremely hot and consistently break the 40 °C (104 °F) mark in the afternoon, dropping to 30 °C (86 °F) in the evening. Rain usually falls in Mecca in small amounts scattered between November and January.

Climate data for Mecca
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 37.4
Average high °C (°F) 30.5
Daily mean °C (°F) 24.0
Average low °C (°F) 18.8
Record low °C (°F) 11.0
Average precipitation mm (inches) 20.8
Average precipitation days 4.0 0.9 1.8 1.8 0.7 0.0 0.3 1.5 2.0 1.9 3.9 3.6 22.4
Average relative humidity (%) 58 54 48 43 36 33 34 39 45 50 58 59 46
Mean monthly sunshine hours 260.4 245.8 282.1 282.0 303.8 321.0 313.1 297.6 282.0 300.7 264.0 248.0 3,400.5
Mean daily sunshine hours 8.4 8.7 9.1 9.4 9.8 10.7 10.1 9.6 9.4 9.7 8.8 8.0 9.3
Source #1: Jeddah Regional Climate Center[98]
Source #2: Deutscher Wetterdienst (sun, 1986–2000)[99]


Mecca houses Al-Haram Mosque, the largest mosque in the world. The mosque surrounds the Kaaba, which Muslims turn towards while offering daily prayer. This mosque is also commonly known as the Ḥaram or Grand Mosque.[100]

As mentioned above, because of the Wahhabist hostility to reverence being paid to historic and religious buildings, Mecca has lost most of its heritage in recent years and few buildings from the last 1,500 years have survived Saudi rule.[84]

Expansion of the city is ongoing and includes the construction of 601 m (1,972 ft) tall Abraj Al Bait Towers across the street from the Masjid al-Haram.[101] The towers were the third tallest building in the world when completed in 2012. The construction of the towers involved the demolition of the Ajyad Fortress, which in turn sparked a dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.[102]

The Zamzam Well is home to a celebrated water spring. The Qishla of Mecca was an Ottoman castle facing the Grand Mosque and defending the city from attack. However, the Saudi government removed the structure to give space for hotels and business buildings near to the Grand Mosque.[103] Ḥira' is a cave near Mecca, on the mountain named Jabal an-Nūr (Arabic: جَـبَـل الـنُّـوْر, "Mountain of Light") in the region of Tihamah of present-day Saudi Arabia. It is notable for being the location where Muhammad received his first revelations from God through the angel Jibra'il, who is known as Gabriel to Christians.[104][105]

The Qur'an Gate, located on the Jeddah-Mecca Highway, marks the boundary of the area where non-Muslims are prohibited to enter. It is the entrance to Makkah and the birthplace of Muhammad. The gate was designed in 1979 by an Egyptian architect, Samir Elabd, for the architectural firm IDEA Center. The structure is that of a book, representing the Qur'an, sitting on a rehal, or book stand.[106]


The Meccan economy has been heavily dependent on the annual pilgrimage. As one academic put it, "[Meccans] have no means of earning a living but by serving the hajjis." Income generated from the Hajj, in fact, not only powers the Meccan economy but has historically had far-reaching effects on the economy of the entire Arabian Peninsula. The income was generated in a number of ways. One method was taxing the pilgrims. Taxes especially increased during the Great Depression, and many of these taxes existed as late as 1972. Another way the Hajj generates income is through services to pilgrims. For example, the Saudi national airline, Saudia, generates 12% of its income from the pilgrimage. Fares paid by pilgrims to reach Mecca by land also generate income; as do the hotels and lodging companies that house them.[93]

The city takes in more than $100 million, while the Saudi government spends about $50 million on services for the Hajj. There are some industries and factories in the city, but Mecca no longer plays a major role in Saudi Arabia's economy, which is mainly based on oil exports.[107] The few industries operating in Mecca include textiles, furniture, and utensils. The majority of the economy is service-oriented.

Nevertheless, many industries have been set up in Mecca. Various types of enterprises that have existed since 1970: corrugated iron manufacturing, copper smithies, carpentry shops, upholstering establishments, vegetable oil extraction plants, sweets manufacturies, flour mills, bakeries, poultry farms, frozen food importing, photography processing, secretarial establishments, ice factories, bottling plants for soft drinks, barber shops, book shops, travel agencies and banks.[93]

The city has grown substantially in the 20th and 21st centuries, as the convenience and affordability of jet travel has increased the number of pilgrims participating in the Hajj. Thousands of Saudis are employed year-round to oversee the Hajj and staff the hotels and shops that cater to pilgrims; these workers in turn have increased the demand for housing and services. The city is now ringed by freeways, and contains shopping malls and skyscrapers.[108]

Health care

Health care is provided by the Saudi government free of charge to all pilgrims. There are ten hospitals in Mecca:[109]

  • Ajyad Hospital (مُسْتَشْفَى أَجْيَاد)
  • King Faisal Hospital (مُسْتَشْفَى ٱلْمَلِك فَيْصَل بِحَي ٱلشّشه)
  • King Abdul Aziz Hospital (Arabic: مُسْتَشْفَى ٱلْمَلِك عَبْد ٱلْعَزِيْز بِحَي ٱلـزَّاهِر)
  • Al Noor Specialist Hospital (مُسْتَشْفَى ٱلنُّوْر ٱلتَّخَصُّصِي)
  • Hira Hospital (مُسْتَشْفَى حِرَاء)
  • Maternity and Children Hospital (مُسْتَشْفَى ٱلْوِلَادَة وَٱلْأَطْفَال)
  • King Abdullah Medical City (مَدِيْنَة ٱلْمَلِك عَبْد ٱلله ٱلطِّبِيَّة)
  • Khulais General Hospital (مُسْتَشْفَى خُلَيْص ٱلْعَام)
  • Al Kamel General Hospital (مُسْتَشْفَى ٱلْكَامِل ٱلْعَام)
  • Ibn Sena Hospital in Bahhrah (مُسْتَشْفَى ابْن سِيْنَا بِحَدَاء / بَحْرَه)

There are also many walk-in clinics available for both residents and pilgrims.


Mecca's culture has been affected by the large number of pilgrims that arrive annually, and thus boasts a rich cultural heritage. As a result of the vast numbers of pilgrims coming to the city each year, Mecca has become by far the most diverse city in the Muslim world. In contrast to the rest of Saudi Arabia, and particularly Najd, Mecca has, according to The New York Times, become "a striking oasis" of free thought and discussion and, also, of "unlikely liberalism" as "Meccans see themselves as a bulwark against the creeping extremism that has overtaken much Islamic debate".[13]

The first press was brought to Mecca in 1885 by Osman Nuri Pasha, an Ottoman Wāli. During the Hashemite period, it was used to print the city's official gazette, Al-Qibla. The Saudi regime expanded this press into a larger operation, introducing the new Saudi official gazette Umm al-Qurā. Henceforth presses and printing techniques were introduced in the city from around the Middle East, mostly via Jeddah.[93]

Mecca owns its hometown paper, Al Nadwa. However, other Saudi and international newspapers are also provided in Mecca such as the Saudi Gazette, Al Madinah, Okaz and Al-Bilad. The first three are Mecca's (and other Saudi cities') primary newspapers focusing mainly on issues that affect the city, with over a million readers.

Many television stations serving the city area include Saudi TV1, Saudi TV2, Saudi TV Sports, Al-Ekhbariya, Arab Radio and Television Network and various cable, satellite and other specialty television providers.

In pre-modern Mecca, the most common sports were impromptu wrestling and foot races.[93] Football is the most popular sport in Mecca, the city hosting some of the oldest sport clubs in Saudi Arabia such as, Al-Wahda FC (established in 1945). King Abdulaziz Stadium is the largest stadium in Mecca with capacity of 38,000.[110]


As in other Arabian cities, Kabsa (a spiced dish of rice and meat) is the most traditional lunch but the Yemeni mandi (a dish of rice and tandoori cooked meat) is also popular. Grilled meat dishes such as shawarma (flat-bread meat sandwich), kofta (meatballs) and kebab are widely sold in Mecca. During Ramadan, fava beans in olive oil and samosas are the most popular dishes and are eaten at dusk. These dishes are almost always found in Lebanese, Syrian, and Turkish restaurants.

The mixture of different ethnicities and nationalities amongst Meccan residents has significantly impacted Mecca's traditional cuisine. The city has been described as one of the most cosmopolitan Islamic cities, with an international cuisine.[111]

Traditionally during the month of Ramadan, men (known as Saggas) provided mineral water and fruit juice for Muslims breaking their fast at dusk. Today, Saggas make money providing sweets such as baklava and basbosa along with fruit juice drinks.

In the 20th century, many fast-food chains opened franchises in Mecca, catering to locals and pilgrims alike.[112] Exotic foods, such as fruits from India and Japan, are often brought by the pilgrims.[113]


Population density in Mecca is very high. Most long-term residents of Mecca live in the Old City, and many work in the industry known locally as the Hajj Industry. Iyad Madani, Saudi Arabia's minister for Hajj, was quoted as saying, "We never stop preparing for the Hajj."[114] Year-round, pilgrims stream into the city to perform the rites of Umrah, and during the last weeks of Dhu al-Qi'dah, on average 4 million Muslims arrive in the city to take part in the rites known as Hajj.[115]

Pilgrims are from varying ethnicities and backgrounds, mainly Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Many of these pilgrims have remained and become residents of the city. The Burmese are an older, more established community who number roughly 250,000.[116] Adding to the Hajj-related diversity, the oil-boom of the past 50 years has brought hundreds of thousands of working immigrants.

Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca under Saudi law,[14] and using fraudulent documents to do so may result in arrest and prosecution.[117] The prohibition extends to Ahmadis, as they are considered non-Muslims.[118] Nevertheless, many non-Muslims and Ahmadis have visited the city. The first such recorded example of non-Muslims is that of Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna in 1503.[119] Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of Sikhism, visited Mecca[120] in December 1518.[121] One of the most famous was Richard Francis Burton,[122] who traveled as a Qadiriyyah Sufi from Afghanistan in 1853. The Saudi government supports their position using Sura 9:28 from the Qur'an: "O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque."


Formal education started to be developed in the late Ottoman period continuing slowly into and Hashimite times. The first major attempt to improve the situation was made by a Jeddah merchant, Muhammad ʿAlī Zaynal Riḍā, who founded the Madrasat al-Falāḥ in Mecca in 1911–12 that cost £400,000.[93]

The school system in Mecca has many public and private schools for both males and females. As of 2005, there were 532 public and private schools for males and another 681 public and private schools for female students.[123] The medium of instruction in both public and private schools is Arabic with emphasis on English as a second language, but some private schools founded by foreign entities such as International schools use the English language for medium of instruction. They also allow mixing between males and females while other schools do not.

For higher education, the city has only one university, Umm Al-Qura University, which was established in 1949 as a college and became a public university in 1979.


In 2010, the Mecca area became an important site for paleontology with respect to primate evolution, with the discovery of a Saadanius fossil. Saadanius is considered to be a primate closely related to the common ancestor of the Old World monkeys and apes. The fossil habitat, near what is now the Red Sea in western Saudi Arabia, was a damp forest area between 28 million and 29 million years ago.[124]

Paleontologists involved in the research hope to find further fossils in the area.[125]


Telecommunications in the city were emphasized early under the Saudi reign. King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (Ibn Saud) pressed them forward as he saw them as a means of convenience and better governance. While in King Husayn's time there were about 20 telephones in the entire city; in 1936 the number jumped to 450, totalling about half the telephones in the country. During that time, telephone lines were extended to Jeddah and Ta’if, but not to the capital Riyadh. By 1985, Mecca, like other Saudi cities, possessed modern telephone, telex, radio and television communications.[93]

Limited radio communication was established within the Kingdom under the Hashimites. In 1929, wireless stations were set up in various towns of the region, creating a network that would become fully functional by 1932. Soon after World War II, the existing network was greatly expanded and improved. Since then, radio communication has been used extensively in directing the pilgrimage and addressing the pilgrims. This practice started in 1950, with the initiation of broadcasts the Day of Arafa, and increased until 1957, at which time Radio Makka became the most powerful station in the Middle East at 50 kW. Later, power was increased to 450 kW. Music was not immediately broadcast, but gradually introduced.[93]



Mecca has only the small Mecca East Airport with no airline service, so Mecca is served by King Abdulaziz International Airport (IATA: JED, ICAO: OEJN) located at Jeddah, about 100 kilometres from the city centre. To cater the large number of Hajj pilgrims, this airport has a specifically built Hajj terminal which can accommodate 47 planes simultaneously and it can receive 3,800 pilgrims per hour during the Hajj season.[126]


Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro

Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro is a metro line in Mecca opened in 13 November 2010.[127] This 18.1 kilometer elevated metro transports pilgrims to holy sites Mount Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina in the city during hajj reducing the congestion on the roads.[128]

Mecca Metro

Mecca Metro, officially known as Makkah Mass Rail Transit, is a planned four-line metro system for the city.[129] This will be in addition to[129] the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro which carries pilgrims during Hajj.


In 2018, a high speed inter-city rail line (Haramain High Speed Rail Project, also known as the "Western Railway") was launched, connecting the cities of Mecca and Medina together via King Abdullah Economic City, Rabigh, Jeddah and King Abdulaziz International Airport.[130][131] The railway consists of 35 electric trains and is capable of transporting 60 million passengers annually. Each train can reach speeds of up to 300 km per hour over a distance of 450 km, reducing the travel time between the two cities to less than two hours.[132][131] It was built by a business consortium from Spain.[133]


Some of the intercity highways which connects the city of Mecca are:[134][135]

Sister cities

See also


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Further reading

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