Mecca (مكة المكرمة)


Location: Makkah province  Map


Description of Mecca

Mecca or Makkah situated in Makkah province of Saudi Arabia. It is the holiest and sacred city for the Muslims. In fact pilgrimage here or hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Every year over 3 million of believers come here during the month of Dhu'l-Hijjah and over 15 millions in total. Interestingly all Muslims pray every day in direction of this sacred city. In fact incredible growth in algebra, mathematics and astronomy in the Arab World were partially influenced by a requirement for all people to pray regardless of their location around the World.
Mecca is known as the hometown of Prophet Muhammad and only Muslims are allowed to visit holiest shrines in Mecca. Many Europeans managed to sneak in, but it is a risky business and not advisable even today. The religious center of Mecca is Masjid al-Haram (Sacred Mosque) that contains a large cuboid shaped building known as Kabba. Kaaba according to tradition was constructed around 2000 BC by Ibrahim (Biblical Abraham) with the help of his son Ishmael (son of Hagar).


Getting here

Danger! Non-Muslims are prohibited from traveling to Mecca under penalty of deportation and possibly imprisonment. This applies throughout the year and not just during Hajj.

By plane
The nearest airport is in Jeddah. Because of the huge rush for Hajj, there is a special terminal at this airport just for the pilgrimage period.

By train
A railway line is currently under construction

By bus
There are a number of buses from Jeddah to Mecca - especially for Hajj.

On the street
The highway from Mecca to Jeddah is in good condition and, apart from the gridlock at Hajj time, is oversized for traffic. Before you get to Mecca itself there is a police checkpoint where you have to prove that you are Muslim.


Local transport

A subway is in operation during the Hajj and is shut down the rest of the year.


Importance for Islam

Mecca is considered the birthplace of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. The most important pilgrimage destination is the Kaaba, a windowless, cuboid building in the courtyard of the main mosque, which, according to Islamic belief, was first built by the prophet Adam and then rebuilt by the prophet Abraham. It is historically certain that the Kaaba was a central sanctuary for the Arab tribes in the surrounding area even in pre-Islamic times. In its southeast corner is the Black Stone, which, according to tradition, the prophet Abraham received from the angel Gabriel.



Mecca is located in the west of the Arabian Peninsula within the geological area of the Arabian-Nubian Shield. This essentially consists of rock formations made of granite, diorite and granodiorite. In terms of georelief, the city lies in the middle zone between the Tihāma coastal plain in the west, which extends over the entire Red Sea coast, and the Sarawāt high mountains in the east. The distance to Tihama is 75 kilometers and the distance to the Sarawat Mountains is 90 kilometers.

The city lies on a circular plateau structured by mountains, valleys and plains. In the north, this plateau, which covers 900 square kilometers and largely corresponds to the Sacred District, is bordered by the Wādī Fātima and the Wādī Djiʿrāna, in the east by the Wādī ʿUrana, and in the south by the Wādī Naʿmān, the Wādī ʿUrana and the Wādī Malkān and in the west again by the Wādī Fātima. 36 percent of Mecca's area is occupied by mountains, 40 percent by valleys and 24 percent by flat areas.


Altitude zones and mountains

In terms of relief, the city's terrain is divided into three zones, each extending from north to south:
The western zone with an altitude of 200 to 250 meters, with some mountain peaks reaching a height of 400 meters above sea level.
The middle zone, which is approximately at an altitude of 300 meters and from which a number of well-known historical mountains protrude, including the Abū Qubais (372 meters above sea level) immediately east of the Holy Mosque, the Jabal Chandama adjoining it to the southeast with a height of 420 meters, the Jabal Thaur (759 meters above sea level) five kilometers south of the mosque and the Quʿaiqiʿān (427 meters above sea level) immediately north and northwest of the Holy Mosque.
The eastern zone with a base altitude of more than 400 meters above sea level and mountains more than 800 meters high, such as Jabal at-Tāriqī, east of Minā, with a height of 900 meters. It is the highest mountain in the city of Mecca.

Probably the most famous mountain in Mecca is Jabal an-Nūr (“Mountain of Light”), which lies relatively isolated northeast of the Holy Mosque and on which the Hirā' Cave is located. It is located at the transition to the eastern zone and has a height of 642 meters. Because of the numerous mountains and hills protruding into the urban area, it was necessary to build several road tunnels.


Valleys and plains

The mountains of the eastern zone form the starting points of valleys in which, when it rains, the rainwater drains towards the Holy Mosque, which sometimes occurs like flash floods. Until the early 20th century, most of the city's residents lived in these valleys or on their slopes. The districts located in these valleys are repeatedly hit by violent flash floods (suyūl) during storms. The most important valley of Mecca is the Wādī Ibrāhīm, in the middle of which is the Holy Mosque. This wadi even has a quasi-sacred meaning because the "barren valley" (wādī ġair ḏī zirʿ) is near God's "Holy House", in which, according to the Koran (Sura 14:37 corp), Abraham is said to have settled his descendants identified in this valley. The Wādī Ibrāhīm extends from northeast to southwest: it receives its water from the Jabal at-Tāriqī near ash-Sharā'iʿ, then runs midway between the Jabal an-Nūr in the north and the Jabal ath-Thabīr in the South to al-Abtah, and from there via al-Maʿābida and the Upper City (al-Miʿlāt) to the Holy Mosque. Behind this mosque, its course continues to the lower city (al-Misfala) and Kaʿkīya, until it finally flows into the Wādī ʿUrana. From the Wādī Ibrāhīm, several side valleys and gorges branch off, such as on the eastern side the Wādī Adschyād, which flows into the Wādī Ibrāhīm south of the Holy Mosque, the Shiʿb ʿAlī between Abū Qubais and Jabal Chandama and the Shiʿb ʿĀmir north of the Jabal Chandama .

Another well-known valley is that of Minā, where the Hajj pilgrims offer their sacrifices on the 10th of Dhū l-Hijjah and then spend the “days of drying meat” (aiyām at-tašrīq), which correspond to the 11th-13th. Dhū l-Hijjah. It is located on the eastern side of Mecca, extends in an east-west direction and is in the shape of a triangle that tapers to a westerly direction. Other valleys include the Wādī Muhassar, which forms the border between Muzdalifa and Minā, the Wādī ʿUrana, which lies between ʿArafāt and Muzdalifa and includes the Haram from its eastern and southern sides, and the Wādī Naʿmān east of ʿArafāt on the road to Taif, which draws its water from the Karā Mountain and is divided into numerous side valleys in its upper part.

Some valleys are so vast that they can be described as plains. These include the ʿArafāt Plain east of the city center, where Hajj pilgrims perform Wuqūf on the 9th of Dhū l-Hijjah, and the Sharā'iʿ Plain in the northeast, which is the most extensive plain of Mecca. It also includes the Tanʿīm Plain in the north and the Plain of ʿAzīzīya in the east, which is bordered by the mountains of Minā to the north and the Jabal Chandama to the south.



The early history of the city according to Islamic tradition

The early history of Mecca is obscure. What is certain is that a pagan sanctuary existed here in pre-Islamic times and was the destination of an Arab pilgrimage. According to Islamic tradition, the settlement of Mecca began when the ancestor Abraham brought his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael to this place. He asked God to provide for his family and to have people's hearts turned toward them. This is what the Quranic word in Sura 14:37 refers to: “Our Lord, I have made (some of) my descendants to live in a valley without plantings near your protected house, our Lord, so that they may perform prayer. So let the hearts of some of the people be inclined towards them and provide them with fruit, so that they may be grateful." The legend continues: "When the water supplies ran out, Hagar ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa a total of seven times to look for water or caravans." After she returned to her tent, she found a bubbling spring next to her son Ishmael, which still exists today and is known as Zamzam.

Around the same time, two tribes from Yemen, Jurhum and Qatūrā, settled in Mecca. Ishmael later married a woman from the Jurhum tribe. When Abraham later returned to Mecca, he and Ishmael built the Kaaba. Ishmael retained control of the Kaaba and also of the Jurhum tribe throughout his life. After his death, his father-in-law Mudād ibn ʿAmr took over the supervision of the sanctuary and also the leadership of the tribe. The Jurhum settled in the area above the Kaaba, while the Qatūrā under their leader as-Sumaidiʿ took possession of the lower part of the city.

After some time, groups from the South Arabian Azd tribe took possession of the Mecca lowlands. While most of the Azd groups moved on from there to other areas of the Arabian Peninsula, the Chuzāʿa group alone stayed behind in Mecca. The Chuzāʿa, who themselves developed into a separate tribe, are held responsible in Islamic tradition for the introduction of idolatry in Mecca. They are also said to have built the first dam to protect the city from flooding.


The early history of the city according to historical research

The name “Mecca” was mentioned as early as the 650s by Anania Shirakatsi, and it can also be found in the early manuscripts of the Koran of the 7th and early 8th centuries such as the Codex Mashhad, Codex B. L. Or. 2165, Topkapi Manuscript or in the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus. The claim of many Muslims that the ancient name of Mecca was “Bakkah” and that the place can also be found under this name in the Old Testament of the Bible is considered unsubstantiated but not refuted by experts such as Marijn van Putten. In the Mecca region, rock paintings depicting animals were found, including so-called “Kudu antelopes” (Strepsiceros), which have not existed on the Arabian Peninsula for several thousand years. Therefore, experts like Maria von Klein date the painting to over 5,000 years ago.


The Quraysh's seizure of power

During the early 6th century, the Quraish tribe took control of the city of Mecca. The Quraish were able to establish themselves as successful traders and establish a system of alliances with other Arab tribes. There were close relationships especially with the Banū Sulaim tribe, whose main residential area was between Mecca and Medina. Internally, however, the Quraish tribe was characterized by clan rivalries.

At this time, the Kaaba was already the destination of a pilgrimage and was revered by the Arab tribes as a sanctuary of the god Hubal. In addition to the worship of Allah, the pre-Islamic Kaaba cult also included the worship of the ancient Arabic deities al-Lāt, Manāt and Uzza. The political and social center of the city was the Dār an-Nadwa, a meeting house in which the council of the Quraish took place and the most important rites of passage were celebrated.

The flow of pilgrims may have contributed to Mecca becoming a trading center, even though it itself produced little and had little strategic value. However, some historians are of the opinion that Mecca gained its importance primarily because of its location. It lay on the path of the two-month journey from Byzantium to the Yemeni kingdoms of Saba, Ma'in, Qataban, Ausan and Hadramaut, which had close trade contacts with India and East Africa. The extent to which Mecca benefited from the incense trade is controversial. Mecca, along with Ta'if and Yathrib, formed one of the three major cities of the Hejaz during this period. Because the city lay in a dry and barren valley, it was entirely dependent on the food produced in Tāʾif.


Islamization of Mecca

Around 610, the founder of Islam, Mohammed, began preaching publicly in Mecca and calling for a new monotheistic religion. Due to the Quraish's stubborn resistance to his new teaching, in the summer of 622 he and his followers emigrated to the city of Yathrib (later known as Medina), where numerous members of the Aus and Khazraj tribes had already joined his religion. From Yathrib, Mohammed took up the fight against the non-Islamic Meccans. The military conflict between him and the city of Mecca can be divided into four phases:
In the first phase, which lasted until 624, Muhammad and his followers who had emigrated from Mecca attacked Meccan trading caravans. Since the number of participants in these actions was relatively small and the Meccans had well protected their caravans, these raids, known as Maghāzī, were relatively unsuccessful.
The second phase, in which open battles were fought, began in March 624 with a Muslim attack on a trading caravan led by Abū Sufyān ibn Harb. A Meccan army of around 800 or 900 men, which rushed to the aid of the caravan, was defeated by a significantly smaller number of Muslims near the town of Badr (approx. 130 km southwest of Yathrib). Since the Meccans had the reputation of being the most powerful group in Arabia, and the success of their business depended on maintaining that reputation, defeat at the Battle of Badr posed great danger to them. They therefore prepared for a counterattack to avenge the blood of those who had fallen at Badr. There was a battle near Uhud in the northwest of the Yathrib oasis in March 625, in which the Meccans were victorious this time. In the period that followed, the Meccans forged an alliance with several nomadic and various Jewish tribes and prepared an invasion of Yathrib. With around 10,000 men they appeared in front of the city in March 627 and began their siege. However, since the Muslims had developed a new defense strategy by digging trenches and were also able to persuade the Ghatafān tribe to withdraw from the alliance with Mecca, the Meccans finally had to withdraw without having achieved anything.
The third phase, which lasted approximately three years (March 627 to the end of 629), was characterized by relatively peaceful relations between the Muslims and the Meccans. In March 628, the two parties concluded a ten-year truce treaty at al-Hudaibiya. As a result, both Muhammad and the Meccans were entitled to accept new groups into their alliance. While the Kināna then joined the Meccans, the Chuzāʿa allied themselves with Mohammed.
The fourth, relatively short phase, which ended with the surrender of the city, began with an attack by Bakr ibn ʿAbd Manāt, who belonged to the Kināna, on members of the Chuzāʿa. To prevent the situation from escalating, the Meccans sent Abū Sufyān ibn Harb, who had been related to Muhammad since his daughter Umm Habība married Muhammad in 627, to Yathrib to renew the peace treaty with the Muslims. However, the negotiations were unsuccessful. When Mohammed marched in front of Mecca in January 630 with an army of around 10,000 men, which, in addition to Muhādshirūn and Ansār, also included numerous members of other tribes such as the Banū Sulaim and Muzaina, Abū Sufyān met him and conducted the contact discussions. In return for his conversion to Islam, he received a security guarantee for all those residents of Mecca who did not offer armed resistance. The extensive guarantees meant that Muhammad's army encountered almost no resistance as it entered the city. A little later, Muhammad directed his army against the Hawāzin, a powerful tribe that was hostile to both Muslims and Meccans, and after the victory in the Battle of Hunain, was very generous in distributing the spoils to the Meccans . A rapid reconciliation of interests with former opponents from Mecca was also made easier by the fact that Mohammed confirmed the families from the Quraish, who had previously held the cultic offices in Mecca, in these offices.


History in Islamic times

Islam adopted the cult of the Black Stone of the Kaaba from the ancient Arabian religion into Islam, as did the pilgrimage to Mecca. However, the rites associated with the pilgrimage have now been traced back to Abraham.

After heavy rain flooded the city again in 638, 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb had a new dam built in the upper part of the city to protect the Holy Mosque from further flooding. In the period that followed, the mosque in Mecca was enlarged several times, for example during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi (r. 775–785) by his governor Ja'far ibn Sulaimān. When there was a great drought in 809/810, Zubaida bint Ja'far, the wife of Harun al-Rashid, built a pipeline that carried water from 'Ain al-Mushash and Hunain to Mecca. This pipe formed the basis of the Meccan water supply in the 9th century.

From the late 10th century, the city was ruled by the Sherifs of Mecca. They successively submitted to various ruling houses, first the Fatimids, then the Ayyubids, the Rasulids and the Mamluks of Egypt. In 1326, Amīr Tschūpān put the Meccan water supply back on a more stable basis by uncovering and repairing the water pipe from ʿAin Bāzān. In order to increase the water flow of the pipe in dry phases, the pipe was provided with additional inlets over time. In addition, the pipe had to be repaired and cleaned frequently because the pipes regularly became clogged with earth and debris during floods.

From 1517, Mecca was under the sovereignty of the Ottomans. During this time, the city became particularly important for the Muslims of Southeast Asia. Several sultans of the Malay Archipelago received letters of investiture from the Sherifs of Mecca. In addition, the motif of Islamizing one's own dynasty through envoys from Mecca was an important element in the legitimation of rule. Muslims from Southeast Asia made up the largest contingent of pilgrims to Mecca in the 19th century.

The Grand Sherif Hussein ibn Ali, who later became King of the Hejaz, overthrew Turkish rule over Mecca in 1916. In October 1924, the Wahhabi Ichwān of Sultan Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud captured Mecca and King Husayn was forced to flee. Shortly after this event, ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz invited people to a congress in Mecca that was intended to reconcile Muslims with Saudi rule. After ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz was made king in January 1926, the planning for this congress took more concrete form. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz sent telegrams to various Muslim politicians and organizations, urging them to take part in the event to secure the future of the shrines and improve the comfort of pilgrims. The congress took place in June/July 1926.

From November 20th to December 5th, 1979, a terrorist attack with hostage-taking took place on the large mosque in Mecca, during which over 1,000 people may have been killed.


Urban development since the 20th century

In recent years, Mecca has seen a significant growth of almost 200,000 inhabitants per year, which is accompanied by urban restructuring, for example. B. is particularly noticeable around the holy places. Today, the greater Mecca area is characterized by the infrastructural facilities that accommodate, feed and transport the pilgrims. Entire hill settlements that had previously been low and loosely built up were demolished and the areas straightened to make room for large buildings, especially pilgrim hotels. To the south of the Great Holy Mosque, a massive hotel complex was built by the end of 2012, at the center of which the highest of the Abraj Al Bait Towers, at 601 meters, forms the new crown of the city.