Mecca is the capital city of Makkah province in the Hejaz region, nearly 300m above sea level and nestled in the valley of Abraham along the Sarat Mountain range.
Located 70 kilometers south east of Jeddah, Mecca is the holiest site in Islam. Over 1.5 billion Muslims from around the world face Mecca during their five daily prayers. The city’s full name is Mecca Al Mukarrama, or Mecca the Honorable.
Masjed Al-Haram or the Grand Mosque – Islam’s largest – surrounds the Ka’aba. The Ka’aba, the black stone around which pilgrims circulate, was built by Abraham, the prophet of monotheism, with the help of his son Ismail around 2000 BC.
A spring water well, the Zamzam spring, is said to have miraculously appeared to quench the thirst of Prophet Abraham’s wife, Hajar, and their baby son Ismail. The spring is still running nearby, between the hills of Safa and Marwa.
Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the site of a cave where the Prophet first received his revelations. His return to Mecca in 629AD after a period of exile, and the subsequent spread of the faith are events that have turned Mecca into the spiritual capital of Islam.
It was around that time that non-Muslims were prohibited from entering the city. Non-Muslims are still barred from entering Mecca.
Today, Mecca annually accommodates around 2.5 million pilgrims seeking to make the obligatory once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.
This major pilgrimage, one of Islam’s five major pillars, is called the Hajj. It takes place in the last month of the lunar Hijri year, which in 2012 falls towards the end of October.
Umrah, which is the minor pilgrimage and not an obligatory ritual, is performed any time of the year.
Mecca has a resident population of just under 2 million. With the annual visit of between 2.5 and 3 million pilgrims during the Hajj period, Mecca becomes the site of the largest human gathering in the world. To cope with the logistics of such a gathering, Saudi officials deploy thousands of guides, health workers and policemen to serve the pilgrims.
Over the years, infrastructure for vehicle and pedestrian roads has been improved, health services increased and sanitary conditions guaranteed to ensure an incident-free and healthy passageway for the annual congregation of the faithful.
But Mecca’s not just about holy pilgrimages. If all goes according to plan, Mecca might soon become the first fully solar-powered city in the Kingdom, with a solar industry to serve the entire country as well. Imagine that: the Mecca of renewable energy!