Every Muslim at some point in their life wants to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the most important site in the Islamic World. Mecca is a city in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, where the country’s wealth has led to developments bearing no relation to religion. One such development is the Abraj Al Bait complex of seven skyscraper hotels. The towers are part of the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project to cater for overseas’ pilgrims.
The central Makkah Royal Clock Tower is actually a Fairmont Hotel, having the largest clock face in the world. It is one of the tallest freestanding buildings in the world at around 600 meters and its location close to Islam’s most sacred site, the Masjid al-Haram.
The Abraj Al Bait complex is on the former site of the Ajyad Fortress, an 18th Century Ottoman citadel which stood on the hill overlooking the Grand Mosque. The destruction of the fortress in 2002 was not popular in some parts of the Islamic World. It is one of the most expensive buildings anywhere in the world, construction being estimated as 15 billion US dollars.
The large prayer room in the Tower has a capacity of 10,000, the car park holds 1,000 vehicles and the shopping mall has five floors. Those staying in the hotel can get a room that is almost as high as the tower; 450 meters above the ground.
The original plans that were drawn up actually intended to have the tower reaching a height of 734 meters, though when the final plans were published that had been revised down to 601 meters.
The towers that make up the complex are:
• Royal Clock Tower – 601 meters on 120 floors
• Hajar Tower – 279 meters on 58 floors
• ZamZam – 279 meters on 58 floors
• Al Marwa Rayhaan by Rotana – 220 meters on 46 floors
• Safa – 220 meters on 46 floors
• Al Maqam – 232 meters on 61 floors
• Qibla – 232 meters on 61 floors
The Clock at the top can be seen from 25 kilometers away, 400 meters on high as it sits. Each of the 4 faces of the clock is 46 meters in diameter and its visibility is helped by 2 million LED lights. On two faces, there is Arabic script and on the other two the Quran. The minute hands of each clock are 22 meters, the hour hands 17 meters. The scale is truly enormous.
The Spire on the top of the main building is a further 93 meters with a golden crescent at the top. The crescent was made in Dubai, weighs 35 tonnes and was delivered in Mecca in ten pieces. At the base of the spire those 10 pieces became 5 before they were taken up to be put into their final position.
Massive loudspeakers send out the call to prayer and it can be heard seven kilometers away. The area is lit by almost 21,000 lamps making it visible from 30 kilometers away. During special events like the Eids and new Hijri years, an area of 10 kilometer diameter lights up the area and obviously, this can also be seen from afar. It is a means by which the deaf can respond to the call to prayer. There are over 200 mosques in Mecca with many attending their neighborhood mosque to pray.
Modern meets traditional and ancient in Mecca with the Abraj al Bait Tower certainly representing the modern. The hotels are all internationally known names who have a reputation for providing 5-star quality. Rooms are in great demand, especially on the significant dates in the Islamic calendar.