The ongoing construction is officially supposed to widen the esplanade where pilgrims walk around the Kaaba [the cube in the middle of the sacred mosque] to be able to accommodate a larger number of pilgrims [the mosque can currently fit 28,000 pilgrims per hour, but would be able to hold 220,000 per hour after the renovations]. However, on top of the new galleries, new towers would be built, featuring hotels, restaurants, and malls.
We already know what the mosque will look like when the construction is finished. In 2010, mosques dating back to the Prophet’s times were destroyed to allow for the construction of the Royal Mecca Clock Tower
. [Editor’s Note: This clock tower, which is the second largest in the world, is located amidst a hotel complex with buildings ranging from 42 to 48 stories high].
A hotel complex overshadows Mecca's sacred mosque. Photo by Hatoon Al Fassi.
We are currently sounding the alarm, because unfortunately this is not the first destruction of ancient buildings in Mecca. During the last three decades, construction work to expand the mosque has already destroyed about two thirds of the sacred mosque’s historical buildings. The Ottoman galleries are the greatest treasure of the remaining third. We have already lost the houses of the Prophet’s companions, as well as smaller mosques around the main mosque that dated back to the earliest years of the Islamic era. And, while the house in which the Prophet was born has been transformed into a library, other sites have suffered worse fates: for instance, the house of Khadija, the Prophet’s first wife and the mother of his children, was destroyed in order to build public toilets!
The Ottoman galeries. Photo by Hatoon Al Fassi.