Mecca / Makka / Makkah
Saudi Arabia is famous for its two chief cities, Mecca and Medina, one of which is celebrated for its temple, and having given birth to Mohammed; and the other for being the place of his residence for the last ten years of his life, and of his interment. Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed. As such, it is the most holy city in Islam. It is located in western Saudi Arabia and is a city open only to Muslims. Most religious historians view Islam as having been founded in 622 CE by Mohammed the Prophet (circa 570 to 632 CE) in Mecca, when the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) read the first revelation to Muhammad. (Muhammad and Muhammed are alternate spellings for his name.)
The Saudi government considers it a sacred duty to safeguard two of the greatest shrines of Islam, the holy mosques located in the cities of Mecca and Medina. Travel to Mecca and Medina is forbidden to non-Muslims. Muslims throughout the world turn to Mecca five times a day for prayer.
Five hills used to form a rim around central Mecca, but since 1944, when one was razed to build a palace for royal guests, they have gradually been covered or diminished by development. East of the city, rugged peaks rise in the desert. Al-Masjid al-Haram, also known as the Grand Mosque, which houses the Kaaba, lies at the city’s lowest point.
Mecca, sometimes also called Becca, which words are synonymous, and signify "a place of great intercourse," is certainly one of the most ancient cities in the world. Some authors imagine it to be the Mesa, or Mesha, of the Scripture, and that it deduced its name from one of Ishmael’s sons. It stands in a stony and barren valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains under the same parallel with the Macoiaba of Ptolemy.
There being no springs at Mecca, at least none but what are bitter, and unfit to drink, exuept. only the well Zemzem, the water of which, though far the best, yet cannot be drunk for any continuance, being brackish, and causing eruptions in those who drink plentifully of it, the early inhabitants were obliged to use rain-water, which they caught in cisterns.
The Arabs had a tradition amongst them, that Ishmael, with his mother Hagar, fixed his residence here ; which seems to have induced them frequently to visit Mecca, and hold it in high veneration, even before the age of Mohammed. They likewise believe Zanzem to have been the well, near which Hagar sat down with her son Ishmael, and was comforted by the angel. Some of the Orientals make the patriarch Abraham to have been the founder of it; but others with more reason attribute its foundation to one of the sons of Ishmael.
Ishmael's posterity was supplanted by the Banu Jurhum of Yemen, who in their turn were supplanted by the Khuz&'a, also of Yemen, in the year 210 AD. About 450 a certain Kussal of the Koreish family, and an ancestor of Mohammed, seized the Kaaba, and his family is 'supposed to reign there to-day. Here Mohammed was born (c. 570), and in the same year the city was menaced by the Abyssinian* ("Year of the Elephant"). Its patricians opposed the Prophet, but gave in eight years after he had fled to Medina in 630.
Though large sums of money were lavished upon it by successive Mohammedan rulers, it was not an easy city to hold. It had its own pretender to the caliphate in Abdallah ben Zobelr, who was besieged in Mecca in 692 by the Caliph al Hajjai and finally slain. In 930 it was devastated by the Karmathians. But it always had its own rulers or sherifs, descendants of the Prophet through Hasan, son of Ali; and, though they recognized the supremacy of the Fatimides, Mamelukes, and Turkish sultans, they had a large measure of independence. Since Selim I (1517) they have ruled in the name of the Turkish Sultan.
In 1803 the Wahhabis took the city, but were driven out by Mehemet Ali in 1813. A change in the dynasty of sherifs occurred in 1827. Since 1840 their prestige had graduallv diminished, a wali (governor) being sent bv (he Porte to offset their power.
By the early 20th Century, the inhabitants made their living chiefly by letting rooms at the time of the Hajj to the pilgrims who came here, often to the number of 100,000. The largest number of these pilgrims are Malays and Indians; then come Africans, Persians, Turks, Egyptians, Syrians, Tatars, and Chinese. Ordinarily the city contained about 60,000 inhabitants.
The center of the city is the Masjid al Haram, or Sacred Mosque, which lies beneath the level upon which the rest of the city stands and is always liable to inundations from the Sail, or mountain torrent. This sacred area is capable of holding 35,000 people; it is surrounded by colonnades, contains the sacred Kaaba, and is the only mosque in the world with seven minarets.
A great number of people were attached to the mosque in some kind of ecclesiastical capacity, as Khatibs (preachers), Katibs (scribes), muftis, judicial assessors, muezzins, etc. In addition to this, each section of the Mohammedan world has its representatives in Mecca, who take care of its pilgrims, provide them with lodgings, instruct them in the ceremonies, and the like. By the side of the mosque runs the Mas'ah, a street lined by high houses and reaching up to the hills, Safa and Marwah, through which the pilgrims must run seven times.
The Abraj Al-Bait Towers, also known as the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, is a government-owned megatall building complex. It is said to be the biggest (not tallest) building in the world by mass, the tallest building in Saudi Arabia and one of the tallest buildings in the world, surpassing the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia which held the title as world's tallest building between 1998 and 2003.
By 2012 a series of towers called the Jabal Omar Project were under construction. Where modest houses had stood, a complex of thirty-nine towers of hotels and apartments, with nine thousand parking spaces and four thousand shops, was rising in concrete and granite. T. R. Hamzah & Yeang, the Kuala Lumpur-based architectural firm that designed nine of the towers, had calculated that the average height of the five hills that once circled the Grand Mosque area was almost fifteen hundred feet; the architects fixed that height as the limit for their high-rises. The firm’s initial bid claimed that the project would create “a new protective rim" around the mosque, and “avoid a rampant disorganized skyline around the holy area."
In online forums, some see the Abraj Al-Bait Towers as a sign of doomsday. They connect the competition among oil-rich Arab states to build skyscrapers to a reference in the Hadith, or the Prophet’s sayings, about the arrival of Judgment Day. When the angel Gabriel asks the Prophet when the world will end, Muhammad replies, “When destitute camel herders compete in building tall structures."
This is not a very noble cause, and actually brings to life one of the prophesied "Signs of the Last Day". It would explain why they put a clock on top.