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Mecca (officially Makkah al-Mukarramah) is the capital of Makkah Province in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia and the holiest city according to Islam.

It is home to the Kaaba shrine and the Masjid al-Haram (Arabic: "The Great Mosque of Mecca"). The city is known for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which being one of the Five Pillars of Islam, attracts close to 3 million pilgrims every year. Muslims must pray facing Mecca.

Islamic tradition attributes the beginning of Mecca to the prophet Ismail's descendants. In the 7th century, the Islamic prophet, Muhammad proclaimed Islam in the city, by then an important trading center, and the city played an important role in the early history of Islam. After 966, Mecca was led by local sharifs, until 1924, when it came under the rule of the Saudis. In its modern period, Mecca has seen a great expansion in size and infrastructure.

The modern day city is located in the capital of Saudi Arabia's Makkah Province, in the historic Hejaz region. With a population of 1,700,000 (2008), the city is located inland from Jeddah, in a narrow valley, and above sea level.


Mecca is governed by the Municipality of Mecca, headed by an Amin (Arabic: "mayor") appointed by the Saudi Government. The current mayor of the city is Osama Al-Bar. A municipal council of fourteen locally elected members is responsible for the functioning of the municipality.

Mecca is the capital of Makkah Province, which includes neighboring Jeddah. The governor was Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdul Aziz from 2000 until his death in 2007. On May 16, 2007, Prince Khalid al-Faisal was appointed as the new governor.



1787 Turkish artwork of the Holy Mosque and related religious sites (Jabal al-Nur)

Early History[]

to Islamic tradition, the history of Mecca goes back to Abraham when he built the Kaaba with the help of his son Ismail around 2000 BC. The inhabitants were stated to have fallen away from monotheism through the influence of the Amalekites. Historians state that the Kaaba later became the repository of 360 idols and tribal gods of all of Arabia's nomadic tribes. Until the 6th century, Mecca's most important god remains to be Hubal, having been placed there by the ruling Quraysh tribe.

Ptolemy called the city "Macoraba." 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 as well, since battles in other parts of the world were causing trade routes to divert from the dangerous sea routes to the relatively more secure overland routes. The Byzantine Empire had previously controlled the Red Sea, but piracy had been on the increase. Another previous route, that from the Persian Gulf via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was also being threatened by exploitation from the Sassanid Empire, as well as being disrupted by the Lakhmids, the Ghassanids, and the Roman-Persian Wars. Mecca's prominence as a trading center surpassed the cities of Petra and Palmyra.

By the middle of the 6th century, there were three major settlements in northern Arabia, all along the southwestern coast that borders the Red Sea, in a habitable region between the sea and the great desert to the east. This area, known as the Hejaz, featured three settlements grown around oases, where water was available. In the center of the Hejaz was Yathrib, later renamed as Medina. South of Yathrib was the mountain city of Taif, northwest of which lay Mecca. Though the area around Mecca was completely barren, Mecca was the wealthiest and most important of the three settlements. Islamic histories state that it had abundant water via the Zamzam Well, which was the site of the holiest shrine in Arabia, the Kaaba, and was also at the crossroads of major caravan routes.

The harsh conditions of the Arabian peninsula usually meant a constant state of conflict between the tribes, but once a year they would declare a truce and converge upon Mecca in an annual pilgrimage. This journey was intended for religious reasons, to pay homage to the shrine, and to drink from the Well of Zamzam. 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 extremely important throughout the peninsula.

Muhammad's great-grandfather had been the first to equip a camel caravan, and they became a regular part of the town's economy. Alliances were struck between the merchants in Mecca, and the local nomadic tribes, who would bring leather, livestock, and metals which were mined in the local mountains. Caravans would then be loaded up in Mecca, and would take the goods to the cities in Syria and Iraq. Islamic tradition claims that goods from other continents also flowed through Mecca. From Africa and the Far East towards Syria supposedly flowed spices, leather, drugs, cloth, and slaves; and in return Mecca was to have received money, weapons, cereals, and wine, which were distributed throughout Arabia. The Meccans signed treaties with both the Byzantines and the Bedouins, and negotiated safe passage for caravans, which included such things as water and pasture rights. These further increased Mecca's political power as well as economics, and Mecca became the center of a loose confederation of client tribes, which included those of the Banu Tamim. Other forces such as the Abyssinian, Ghassan, and Lakhm were in decline, and Meccan influence was the primary binding force in Arabia in the late 6th century.

In 628, Muhammad and his followers peacefully marched to Mecca, attempting to enter the city for pilgrimage. Instead, however, both Muslims and Meccans entered into the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, whereby Muslims and Quraysh would cease fighting and Muslims would be allowed into the city the following year. Two years later the Quraysh violated the truce, but instead of continuing their fight, the city of Mecca shortly surrendered to Muhammad, who declared amnesty for the inhabitants and gave generous gifts to the leading Quraysh. Mecca was cleansed of all its idols and cult images in the Kaaba. Muhammad declared Mecca as the holiest site in Islam ordaining it as the center of Muslim pilgrimage, one of the faith's five pillars. Despite his conquest, however, Muhammad chose to return to Medina, leaving behind Attab bin Usaid to govern the city. Muhammad's other activities in Arabia led to the unification of the peninsula, putting an end to the wars that had disrupted life in the city for so long.

In Islamic history, Muhammad's emigration to Medina established the city as the first capital of the nation. When the Umayyad Caliphate took power they moved the capital to Dam, Syria, and then the Abbasid moved the capital to Baghdad, Iraq. The center of the Islamic Empire remained at Baghdad for nearly 500 years, and flourished into a center of research and commerce. In the 13th century, the Mongols invaded Baghdad and sacked the city. This event was one of the most detested events in Islamic history. Soon after the Battle of Baghdad (1258), the Mongols rampaged west and conquered Syria. The next city to quickly emerge as the center of power in the Islamic state was Cairo, in Egypt. When the Ottoman Empire came into prominence the capital was moved to Constantinople. However, Mecca remained a prominent trading center. Pilgrims arriving for the Hajj often financed their journey by bringing goods to sell in the Meccan markets, and acquiring goods there which they could sell when they returned home.

Mecca re-entered Islamic political history briefly when it was held by Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, an early Muslim who opposed the Umayyad caliphs. The Caliph Yazid I besieged Mecca in 683.

Thereafter the city figured little in politics, it was a city of devotion and scholarship. For centuries it was governed by the Hashemite Sharifs of Mecca.

In 930, Mecca was attacked and sacked by Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim sect led by Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi and centered in eastern Arabia. The Black Death pandemic hit Mecca in 1349. In 1517, the Sharif of Mecca, Barakat bin Muhammad, acknowledged the supremacy of the Ottoman Caliph, but maintained a great degree of local autonomy.

The city was captured in 1802 by the First Saudi State (also known as Wahhabis), and the Saudis held Mecca until 1813. This was a massive blow to the prestige of the Ottoman Empire, who had exercised sovereignty over the holy cities since 1517, and the lethargic Ottomans were finally moved to action. The task of bringing Mecca back under Ottoman control was assigned to their powerful viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, who successfully returned Mecca following the victory at Mecca in 1813. In 1818, the Wahhabis were again defeated, but some of the Al Saud clan lived on to found the Second Saudi State that lasted until 1891, and later the present Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia[]

In June 1916, During the Arab Revolt, the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali revolted against the Ottoman Empire from Mecca and it was the first city captured by his forces following Battle of Mecca (1916). Sharif Hussein declared a new state, Kingdom of Hejaz, and declared Mecca as the capital of the new kingdom. Following the Battle of Mecca (1924), the Sharif of Mecca was overthrown by the Saudis, and Mecca was incorporated into Saudi Arabia. The city is situated between mountains, which has defined the contemporary expansion of the city. The city centers around the Masjid al-Haram area, whose altitude is lower than most of the city. The area around the mosque comprises 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, where there were once hundreds of houses are now replaced with wide avenues and city squares. Traditional homes are built of local rock and are generally two to three stories. The total area of Mecca metro today stands over .

Central Mecca lies in a corridor between mountains, which is often called the "hollow of Mecca." Mecca's location was also important for trade, and it was the stop for important trade routes.

The current structure covers an area of including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and can accommodate up to 4 million worshippers during the Hajj period.

The recent expansion of the city provided many modern landmarks such as the huge towers of Abraj Al-Bait, with height of . The construction of the towers will be completed in 2009, being one of the world's tallest buildings. The site of the towers is located across the street from the entrance to the Grand Mosque.

As a historic city, Mecca owns hundreds of historical landmarks such as the Kaaba, Muslims believe it was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. The Zamzam Well is a further example.

The Qishla of Mecca used to be one of the most notable structures for Mecca, The Qishla was an Ottoman Castle facing the Grand Mosque and defending the city from any possible attack. However, the Saudi government removed the structure, giving free space for new hotels and business buildings around the Mosque.


The Meccan economy has been heavily dependent on the annual pilgrimage. As one scholar put it, "[Meccans] have no means of earning a living but by serving the hajjis." Economics generated from hajj, in fact, not only powers the Meccan economy but has historically had far reaching effects on the economy of the Hejaz and Nejd regions. 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. With rise of oil income, however, all unnecessary charges have been abolished. Another way the Hajj generates income is through services to pilgrims. For example, the Saudi national airline, Saudi Arabian Airlines, 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. The few industries operating in Mecca include textiles, furniture, and utensils. The majority of the economy is service oriented. Water is scarce and food must be imported via shuaiba water plant and Jeddah.

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 manufacturers, 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.

The Quran enjoins Muslims to face the sacred precincts of Mecca during the Salah. Initially though, the direction of the Qibla was toward the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Masjid al-Aqsa), Jerusalem (the First of the Two Qiblas). This tradition has roots in Muhammad's adoption of the Kaaba as a physical focus of the new Muslim community, and the direction of prayer, qibla, from the 7th century until the present day. The determination of this sacred direction gave rise to an important study in medieval Islam, distinct and separate from mainstream Islamic tradition of mathematical geography and cartography.

The cultural environment of today's Mecca has been influenced by a religious movement that began in central Arabia in the mid-18th century. This movement is commonly known as the Wahhabi movement. It has also been influenced by the Shafi school. Also, the conflict between liberals and religious scholars made a major impact on the Society of Mecca.

Since the 7th Century , Mecca has hosted millions of Muslim pilgrims from all over the world in their way to Hajj. This merge with pilgrims has also a major impact on the society and the religion of Meccans.

Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca by Saudi law. According to CNN,

Many religious scholars say this "discrimination" exists because Mecca was once a city where Muslims - including the prophet Mohammed - were persecuted and driven out. When Mohammed and his followers reclaimed the city, it was declared a sanctuary ... a place where every Muslim should feel safe.

Those who use fake certificates of Muslim identity (to enter) may be arrested and prosecuted by Saudi authorities

The Saudi government uses the following verse as a Quranic confirmation for this law, however there are other interpretations to this verse (in particular, People of the Book would usually not be regarded as pagans):

"O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are impure; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque. And if ye fear poverty, soon will God enrich you, if He wills, out of His bounty, for God is All-knowing, All-wise." -- Quran, 9:28

As one might expect, the existence of cities closed to non-Muslims and the mystery of the Hajj aroused intense curiosity in people from around the world. Some have disguised themselves as Muslims and entered the city of Mecca and then the Grand Mosque to experience the Hajj for themselves. The most famous account of a foreigner's journey to Mecca is A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, written by Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled as a Qadiriyya Sufi from Afghanistan; his name, as he signed it in Arabic below his frontispiece portrait for The Jew The Gypsy and El Islam was al-Hajj 'Abdullah.

The primary industry in Mecca in modern times is to support the annual pilgrimage of the Hajj, as well as to support the pilgrims who visit the city at all other times of the year. Major stops in their visit include:

The Kaaba is the ancient stone building towards which all Muslims pray. Many Muslims believe that it dates back to the time of Abraham in 2000 BC. All pilgrims are required to walk counter clockwise around the Kaaba seven times starting at the Black Stone, in a ritual called the Tawaf.

Muslims believe that the Zamzam Well was revealed to Hagar, mother of Ishmael. She was desperately seeking water for her infant son, but could find none. Mecca is located in a hot dry valley with few other sources of water. According to tradition, the water of the Zamzam well is divinely blessed. It is believed to satisfy both hunger and thirst, and cure illness. The water is served to the public through coolers stationed throughout the Masjid al-Haram and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina. All pilgrims make every effort to drink of this water during their pilgrimage.


Meccan residents are a mix of several different ethnicities and nationalities. This mixture of races has impacted significantly on Mecca's traditional cuisine.

Like other Saudi cities, The Nejd Kabsa is the most traditional lunch for Meccans. The Yemeni Mandi is also popular as a lunch meal.

Grilled meats such as shawarma, kofta, and kebab have a good market in Mecca. During Ramadan, sambousek and ful are the most popular meals during Dusk. These meals are almost always found in Lebanese, Syrian, and Turkish restaurants. During Ramadan also but long years ago, a slave man called Sagga used to provide mineral water for people during dusk. The Saggas used to provide grape juice. Today, Saggas are rich business people, providing sweets such as Baklava and basbousa, along with juice.

International food is also popular in the city. American chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, Domino's Pizza and KFC are popular.


The Mecca City area has a distinctive regional speech pattern called the Hejazi dialect, alternatively known as Meccan or Makkawi. It is often considered to be one of the most recognizable accents within the Arabic language. The Hejazi dialect also contains fairly recent borrowings from other Arabic dialects, including Levantine and Egypt.

Pronunciations in Hejazi differ from other Gulf dialects in some respects. The Classical Arabic qaaf (ق) is pronounced as /g/ sound, as in "get". Hijazi Arabic is also conservative with respect to the sound of the pronunciation of the letter ğim (ج), which is very close to the two sounds considered, by specialists, to be the best candidates for the way it was pronounced in Classical Arabic, namely, the voiced palatal plosive /ɟ/ and the palatalized velar stop /gʲ/. This stands in contrast with many dialects in the region which use /g/ or /ʒ/ for ğim instead. Some speakers replace the interdental /θ/ with /t/ or /s/.


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. As Iyad Madani, Saudi Arabia's minister for Hajj was quoted as saying, "We never stop preparing for the Hajj." Year-round, pilgrims stream into the city to perform the rites of Umrah, and during the last weeks of Dhu al-Hijjah, on average 4 million Muslims arrive in the city to take part in the rites known as Hajj.

Pilgrims are of different ethnicities and backgrounds, mainly from Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East, of whom many have remained and become residents of the city. As a result, Mecca is much more ethnically diverse than most Saudi cities and its culture is more eclectic in nature. Added to the traditional diversity, the oil-boom of the past 50 years has brought hundreds of thousands of working immigrants.


Formal education started to be developed in the late Ottoman period continuing slowly into and Hashemite 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. The medium of instruction in both public and private schools is Arabic with emphasis on English as a second language, but some private schools which are by foreign entities such as International schools use the English language for medium of instruction. They also allow the 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.


Telecommunications in the city were emphasized early under the Saudi reign. King Abdul Aziz A-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 the most modern telephone, telex, radio and TV communications.

Limited radio communication was established within the Hejaz region under the Hashemites. 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 Arafat, 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.


Transportation facilities related to the Hajj or Umrah are the main services available. Mecca has only the small Mecca East Airport with no airline service, so most pilgrims access the city through the Hajj terminal of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah or the Jeddah Seaport, both of which are in Jeddah.

The city lacks any public transportation options for residents and visitors, both during and outside of the pilgrimage season. The main transportation options available for travel within and around the city are either personal vehicles or private taxis.


  • Watt, W. Montgomery. "Makka - The pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2008. Brill Online. 06 June 2008
  • Winder, R.B. "Makka - The Modern City." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2008. Brill Online. 06 June 2008

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