- For other places with the same name, see Mecca (disambiguation).
Mecca (Arabic: مكة المكرمة, Makkah al-Mukarramah) is the holiest site of Islam. This city is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammed, the founder of Islam, and Muslims believe the Qu'ran was first revealed to Muhammad here. The Great Mosque of Mecca, known as Masjid al-Haram is considered to be Islam's most sacred mosque and Muslims anywhere face toward it when they pray.
Each year, millions of people from around the world flock to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage, which is an obligation for all Muslims. This makes Mecca the most visited city in all of Saudi Arabia.
Mecca is Saudi Arabia's third largest city in terms of population and it serves as the administrative center of Mecca Province.
The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, is obligatory for all Muslims provided they are physically and financially capable. Over three million Muslims visit the city during the month of Dhu'l-Hijjah yearly.
Visits outside this month are known as minor pilgrimages or Umrah, which are not compulsory but are strongly encouraged. The Umrah can be performed in less than a few hours whereas the Hajj is more time-consuming, and involves more rituals.
The Umrah is not intended to be a substitute to the Hajj; however, both are demonstrations of submission to Allah (god).
Mecca is generally considered "the fountainhead and cradle of Islam".
- See also: Pre-Islamic Arabia, Islam, Islamic Golden Age, Ottoman Empire
Muslims believe that the history of Mecca goes back to Abraham (Ibrahim) who built the Kaaba with the help of his eldest son Ishmael around 2000 BCE. In 570 CE, Muhammad was born in Mecca. Since those days, Mecca's history and identity has been inextricably linked with Islam.
According to Muslim traditions, in 610, it was in Mecca (inside the Hira cave on the mountain of Jabal al-Nour) where Muhammad the age of 40 received his first revelation from Allah, through the Angel Gabriel. Muhammad then begin preaching. In 622, Muhammad left Mecca for Yathrib (now called Medina) for fear of being assassinated by the local Quraysh ruling clan, who had declined to accept Muhammad and his beliefs and started persecuting followers of Islam. As Muhammad migrated to Medina and settled there, several armed conflicts followed between followers of Muhammad and local tribes of Mecca, particularly one during which the followers of Muhammad attempted to return to Mecca in 628 for pilgrimage but weren't allowed to enter the city. A peace treaty was eventually signed that allowed followers of Muhammad to return to Mecca. In 629, Muhammad along with thousands of his followers migrated back to Mecca from Medina (where he had lived for 13 years) for a Hajj, known as the first pilgrimage. According to Muslims, the peace treaty was to also include ceasefire for 10 years but after 2 years, the Quraysh violated the truce by slaughtering a group of Muslims. Muhammad and his followers, companions and allies now much stronger in number, so instead of fighting back, they simply marched across the city of Mecca and thereby triggered the surrender of the Quraysh of Mecca. Eventually, Muhammad Islamicized the city and made it the center of Muslim pilgrimage, Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Mecca has been ruled by various dynasties over the last 1500 years. Starting in 1517 CE, with only one short interruption, Mecca and the rest of the Hejaz were under the control of the Ottoman Empire. From the 10th century, the local religious and temporal leaders were the Hashemite Emirs.
The Hashemites, working with the British intelligence officer Lawrence, led a successful revolt against the Turks during World War I. After the war, (at least as Arabs see it) the British betrayed their allies. Despite wartime promises, there was no independent Arab state in the Levant, only British and French protectorates.
In 1924, Mecca was conquered by the ibn Saud family following a short battle. This was part of the process of founding modern-day Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the British helped put Hashemites on the thrones of Transjordan and Iraq.
Grand Mosque seizure
On 20 November 1979, armed extremists seized the Grand Mosque and called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family and their government who, according to them, were not pure Muslims. The siege lasted two weeks, until the armed forces of Pakistan and France intervened to assist the Saudi authorities.
Although Mecca is a holy and historical city, it has, like every other place around the world, its fair share of issues and problems. Critics of the Saudi government often claim that they often downplay the severity of incidents during the Hajj and they are more keen on making the city a tourist site rather than a religious site.
In 2002, the Ajyad Fortress, an Ottoman citadel that stood on a hill overlooking the Grand Mosque of Mecca, was demolished by the Saudi government to make way for the Abraj Al Bait, a $15 billion project designed to accommodate the vast and growing number of Hajj pilgrims. The decision to demolish the fort sparked international outcry and caused a diplomatic spat with Turkey. The Turkish government tried to prevent the demolition, but to no avail.
Recent events, such as the 2015 Mina stampede, have drawn strong responses from governments all over. Iran in particular has banned its citizens from going to Mecca for the Hajj a few times (only to reverse the bans later on) after several Iranian pilgrims were killed in separate incidents.
It been estimated that about 95% of Mecca's historic buildings have been demolished by the government of Saudi Arabia. Demolition of historic buildings dating back to the period of Prophet Muhammad has long been a controversial issue. The official line is that the Saudi government is trying to accommodate the growing number of Hajj pilgrims. The Saudi government often rejects criticism of their work, and hits back at critics by telling them that they have no right to 'interfere' in whatever they're doing, or that they are 'playing politics'. Avoiding such controversial topics is a good thing to abide by.
|Note: Entry to Mecca will be refused to non-Muslims and followers of the Ahmadiyya movement. As a solitary exception, the Mecca bus terminal (outside city limits) is open to non-Muslims.|
- See also: Saudi Arabia#Get in
For more information on how to enter Saudi Arabia, refer to the "Get in" section of the Saudi Arabia article. If you plan on visiting during the Hajj, you must apply for a Hajj visa, no exceptions. If you intend to visit Mecca outside of the Hajj season, you may do so under a tourist visa.
Since Mecca is deemed as a sacred and holy land, Mecca is a no-fly zone. There are no airports in the city, and commercial planes are strictly disallowed from flying over the city.
- The main gateway to Mecca is 1 King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED IATA) (in Jeddah). The airport has a dedicated Hajj terminal and it is only used during the Hajj. Millions of pilgrims pass through this terminal during the Hajj, so expect the terminal to be crowded.
- Another gateway to Mecca is 2 Ta'if International Airport (TIF IATA) (in Taif). Since it is a relatively small airport, very few airlines operate at the airport. The government plans on constructing a Hajj terminal for pilgrims at the airport, but as of 2022, work on it has been delayed due to the effects of COVID-19.
Once you've landed in either Jeddah or Taif, the next step is to drive to the city. Mecca is served by two major highways: Highway 40 and Highway 15.
- If you are driving from Jeddah, go along Highway 40. Highway 40 is a well-maintained, modern, multi-lane highway and the journey will take you at least 60 minutes depending on traffic conditions. Expect this highway to be completely jammed and packed during the Hajj or the Umrah, however.
- Another easier way to enter Mecca is through Taif. Just drive along Highway 15 and you will reach Mecca in 60 minutes. Since most Hajj pilgrims fly into Jeddah, expect this highway to be completely free of traffic. If you desire to enter Mecca quickly, it is recommended that you take this route.
If you don't have your own car, you can consider doing the following:
- Hail a taxi at the Jeddah airport to take you to Mecca. You can share the costs with other pilgrims if you choose to do so. Prices might be higher during the Hajj season, so stay alert.
- Hail an Uber to take you to Mecca. Uber works in all major cities in Saudi Arabia.
The quickest way to enter the city is by train. A train ride to Mecca from Jeddah will take you at least 30 or so minutes. The Haramain high-speed railway links Mecca and Medina via Jeddah, and you can directly go to the city from the train station at King Abdulaziz International Airport.
- 3 Mecca railway station.
The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) offers bus services to and from the city. A bus ride from Jeddah to Meccah would normally take you 1¼ hours depending on traffic conditions.
SAPTCO also offers a VIP service to Mecca. VIP buses are a lot more comfortable, have free Wi-Fi, and are more spacious. If you're not a citizen of a GCC country, make sure you have a valid passport and the right visa before boarding a VIP bus.
There are many ways in which you can book a bus ride to Mecca. You can do it at a SAPTCO branch, on the SAPTCO app (iOS, Android), or on the website. The SAPTCO app is only in Arabic.
- 4 SAPTCO Station (ابتكو محطة حافلات الطائف), Tan'eem neighborhood - Madina road - near Makkah Medical Center Hospital, ☏ +966-12 5204949, [email protected]. SAPTCO station in Mecca. You can use it to go to your next destination in Saudi Arabia.
- 5 SAPTCO Al-Haram Station, ☏ +966-515234427, [email protected]. SAPTCO VIP Bus Station.
Mecca's transportation network is well developed, however, expect getting around to be a literal hassle during the Hajj; millions of pilgrims are in every nook and corner of the city, and it can take ages to get to one place from another.
The Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro line (Arabic: قطار المشاعر المقدسة الخط الجنوبي) is the only operating metro line in the city. The metro was built in the year 2010 by a Chinese railway construction firm (China Railway Construction Corporation Limited). It is believed to have the highest capacity of any existing metro in the world, which, truthfully, should come as no surprise to you, considering how millions of pilgrims flock every year to Mecca for the Hajj.
There are plans to fully add another metro network in the near future and this new network, known as Makkah Mass Rail Transit, will consist of four lines: line A, line B, line C, and line D. A total of 88 stations are expected to be served by this intended expansion. Although this sounds impressive, construction contracts have still not yet been awarded as of yet. Once construction contracts get awarded and the project gets finished, you can expect to get around Mecca with ease and convenience. But that's ages from now.
Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro
The Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro line has nine stations and is used as an exclusive shuttle train for pilgrims between holy sites in Mecca, Mount Arafat, Muzdalifah, and Mina. As is the case with all transport modes during the Hajj, the metro can be densely crowded and packed, so plan and prepare accordingly.
- 6 Jamarat (Mina 3) (قطار المشاعر - محطة منى 3 - الجمرات), King Abdul Aziz Rd, Al Mashair. The very first station of the Metro. It is approximately 5km away from Masjid Al-Haram. You can reach Masjid Al-Haram in less than five minutes (if going by car) or two hours (if going by foot).
- 7 Mina 2 (محطة منى 2).
- 8 Mina 1 (محطة منى 1).
- 9 Muzdalifah 3 (قطار المشاعر - محطة مزدلفة 3).
- 10 Muzdalifah 2 (قطار المشاعر - محطة مزدلفة 2).
- 11 Muzdalifah 1 (قطار المشاعر - محطة مزدلفة 1).
- 12 Arafat 3 (قطار المشاعر - محطة عرفات 3).
- 13 Arafat 2 (قطار المشاعر - محطة عرفات 2).
- 14 Arafat 1 (قطار المشاعر - محطة عرفات 1).
Being served by two major highways, you can very easily cover the entire city by car. Mecca's road transportation network is well-maintained, organised, and well developed. Roads typically tend to be free of any traffic after the Hajj.
Uber works in Mecca. If you don't feel comfortable driving on Saudi roads, or if you don't have your own car, you can hail an Uber.
During the Hajj, expect to do lots and lots of walking. A lot of attractions in the city center are within walking distance.
As the holiest city in Islam, there are numerous attractions.
- 1 Masjid al-Haram (Sacred Mosque). The holiest site in Mecca and Islam is Grand Mosque. The massive mosque is the world's largest mosque and can accommodate up to 2 million people at once. The mosque has been continuously expanded and still going through major expansion and renovation. This mosque is the focal point of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.
- 2 Kaaba. At the center of the grand mosque is the Kaaba, which according to Muslim traditions was built by the Prophet Abraham and his son, the Prophet Ishmael. Covered in black cloth, it is circled seven times by Muslim pilgrims and it is toward the Kaaba that Muslims face in the direction while performing Islamic prayers (Salat). The Black Stone set intact into the Kaaba's eastern cornerstone wall by Muhammad himself is an Islamic relic which, according to Muslim tradition, dates back to the time of Adam and Eve. Many Muslim pilgrims while doing Tawaf try to kiss and touch the sacred stone; however, this usually requires a lot of effort because of crowding.
- 3 Maqaam-e-Ibrahim. Next to Kaaba is a crystal dome called Maqaam-e-Ibrahim, which contains a rock that is believed to have an imprint of Abraham's foot. Traditions held that Abraham while constructing the high walls of Kaaba stood on the rock which miraculously rose up and let Abraham continue building.
- 4 Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. These were the two small hills now well transformed into long galleries which are well-constructed with marble floor and equipped with air-conditions. Muslim traditions held that Hagar, wife of Abraham, ran back and forth between these two hills in search of water of her son Ismail. It is believed that she first climbed the hill of Al-Safa and later Al-Marwah. Today Muslim perform ritual walking here called Sa'ee involves walking between the two hills seven times. Each trip requires approximately 300 m of walking and roughly 2.1 km in total.
- 5 Cave of Hira (Ghaar-e-Hira), Jabal Al Noor (3 kilometres from Mecca). The cave of Hira is an important site, since atop the mountain locally known as Jabal Al Noor is where Muslims believe Muhammed first had the Quran revealed to him from Allah through the angel Jebril. Pilgrims often climb the cave which stood at a height of 270 m to see the place where Muhammad is believed to have received the first revelation of the Quran.
- 6 Cave Thawr (Ghaar-e-Thawr), Jabal Thawr. This is the cave in which Prophet Muhammed hid in as he made departure to Yathrib (now Medina) from Mecca while being pursued by Quraish of Mecca who were planning to harm him. According to traditions, once Muhammad and his companion made entrance into the cave, the entrance was blocked by a spider which had cast a web to cover it and gave the impression to members of Quraish that no one has made entrance inside the cave since a long time thus saved life of Muhammad. Today, many pilgrims climb up the 1,405 m high mountan to see the cave.
- 7 Jannat al-Mu'alla. This is the cemetery in which companions and relatives of Prophet Muhammed are buried, including his first wife, uncle, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great great-grandfather.
- [formerly dead link] Al-Haramain Museum (متحف الحرم شریف). This museum has a lot of historical artifacts from different eras.
- 8 Mecca Gate. An arched gateway on the highway to Mecca. It marks the boundary of the area where only Muslims are permitted to enter.
- 9 Al Sakkaf Palace. Built in 1927, this palace was the first seat of government for Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.
- 10 Al-Zaher Palace Museum. Historical museum that exhibits the history of Mecca and various archaeological collections.
- 11 Mina. Mina is a neighborhood of Mecca. It has the nick name of Tent City, as there are hundred of thousands of air-conditioned tents in the area, which act as temporary accommodations for pilgrims during Hajj time. The pedestrian-only Jamaraat Bridge, where the symbolic ritual of Stoning of the Devil is done, is located here.
- 12 Hill of Arafat (Jabal Rahma). 70m (230 ft) high Hill of Arafat is a granite hill in the outskirts of Mecca is the site where Prophet Muhammad stood and delivered the Farewell Sermon to the Muslims during the last day of his life. During Hajj, pilgrims spend the whole day on and around this hill doing prayers.
There's a lot you can do in Mecca if you plan on sticking around for long.
- 1 The Kiswa Factory of the Holy Ka'aba. The only place in Saudi Arabia where Kiswa is traditionally made to mark the beginning of Hajj.
- 2 Al-Zaher Palace Museum. The museum has an impressive collection of Islamic artifacts that all tell interesting tales of Mecca and its rich culture.
- 3 The Two Holy Mosques Architecture Exhibition. The museum aims to educate the Muslim community on the architectural designs of the two holy mosques.
- 4 Clock Tower Museum. Science museum located in the Abraj Al-Bait towers.
While in Mecca, many pilgrims purchase trinkets to remember their time and souvenirs to bring back to family and friends. Zamzam water is available free. It is consumed in Mecca and brought home as a souvenir.
Other items to buy in and around Mecca are: prayer mats and hats, prayer beads and perfume.
Being one of the most visited cities in the world, you can sample food from all over the world!
There is an Al-Baik Restaurant adjacent to the Sacred Mosque. You can also try the fullset-chicken with cheap price, even cheaper than KFC.
- 1 Five Guys, Conrad Hotel, Ibrahim Al Khalil Rd, Ash Shubaikah. A branch of the Five Guys fast food chain.
- 2 Faisalabad Restaurant, ☏ +966 55 202 7444, [email protected]. Pakistani restaurant.
- 3 Relish Joy of Taste, ☏ +966 53 020 9000. Lebanese restaurant.
- 4 Al Qasr (10-15 minutes from Makkah Haramain train station.), ☏ +966 12571 7888, [email protected]. Features a wide variety cuisines: Arab, Indian, Moroccan, and Western.
- 5 The Oasis, The Oasis, Jabal Omar, Ibrahim Al Khalil Street (Near Masjid Al-Haram), ☏ +966 12 557 1234. Serves a wide range of cuisines. SAR 250 (average price for two people).
- 6 Al-Rehab Restaurant. 1pm - 11 pm. An Islamic-themed restaurant that offers a great view of Masjid Al-Haram.
- 7 Al-Tayebat Restaurant. 6am - 10am. A restaurant at the Intercontinental Dar Al Tawhid. Offers a great view of Masjid Al-Haram.
- 8 Gurkan Şef Steakhouse, ☏ +966 55 928 8684. One of the four branches of a Turkish steakhouse chain.
During the Hajj, you can try some Zamzam water, which is believed to be divinely blessed. As this is Saudi Arabia, the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages is virtually non-existent.
- 1 Zamzam Cafe. 9AM–1AM. A cafe at the Intercontinental Dar Al Tawhid. You can enjoy cold drinks, tea, coffee accompanied by lovely snacks on the side.
Mecca has a plethora of hotels. Prices vary depending on the hotel's proximity to the Holy Mosque. Some of the world's greatest hotels are situated in Mecca, and are full year-round. Make sure to book early, as soon as you know your dates of travel.
- 1 Abraj Al Bait (Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel) (next to Grand Mosque). This 601 m megatall building has become a modern symbol of Mecca. It is the third tallest building in the world and incorporates the world's largest clock face. The building houses a five star hotel, a large prayer area capable of accommodating 10,000 people, a 5-story grand shopping mall, and numerous eateries.
- 2 Intercontinental Dar al Tawhid Makkah (The Inter-Continental), Ibrahim Al Khalis St (Just Outside of Mecca), ☏ +966-2-541-1111.
- 3 Raffles Makkah Palace, ☏ +966-12571-7888, [email protected].
- 4 Hilton Makkah Convention Hotel, ☏ +966 12 526 0000. Offers majestic views and is close to Masjid Al-Haram.
- 5 Park Inn by Radisson Makkah Aziziyah, 2516 Al Masjid Al Haram Road AlMursalat District, ☏ +966 1255 99100.
- 6 Swissôtel Al Maqam, King Abdul Aziz Endowment, ☏ +966 (12) 577 5888, [email protected].
- 7 Four Points by Sheraton Makkah Al Naseem, Third Ring Road, Al Naseem District at Al Rajhi Mosque, ☏ +966 12 550 8999.
- 8 Pullman Zamzam Makkah, Abraj Al Bait Complex, King Abdel Aziz Endowment, ☏ +966 15715555, [email protected]. Located in the Abraj Al Bait complex, adjoining Masjid Al-Haram.
Mecca in general is a safe city, but one should take extra precautions during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The various safety tips found in the Saudi Arabia article will come in handy. Refer it to often to stay out of trouble.
Overcrowding and stampedes
Overcrowding and stampedes are not unusual in Mecca. Since the development of air travel, pilgrims have been able to access the city much easily than before (earlier people used to travel to Mecca by boat or by other means), and as a result, the city's capacity can be completely overwhelmed.
If you're travelling with family members or with a friend, stick together. Supervise your children (if you have any) closely to make sure they are close to you and are not lost among the crowd.
In September 2015, approximately 2,236 pilgrims were trampled upon and killed in Mina, an incident regarded as the worst ever stampede in the city. The stampede drew extremely strong responses from Muslim-majority countries, with some blaming the Saudi government for being negligent and downplaying the severity of the incident, and the Iranian government (Iran had the highest casualty toll in the stampede) was angered to such a great extent that they went as far as banning their citizens from performing the Hajj in 2016.
Mecca has a hot desert climate and temperatures can reach as high as 40-50°C (100-120°F) during the summers.
As is the case throughout the Middle East, always check weather conditions and hydrate often; you can very easily get exhausted, lethargic, and dehydrated if you do not take the necessary precautions.
As upsetting as it may sound, Mecca has a huge problem with theft and pickpockets. There are many dishonest people and groups that often try to take advantage of the Hajj pilgrimage and/or the Umrah to deprive people of their personal property. You should not assume that Mecca only attracts the honest.
When traversing through the crowds, keep your valuables safe. Err on the side of safety and don't take any unnecessary risks. If you have been the victim of theft, call the police. Saudi authorities treat theft very seriously, largely because of a zero-tolerance justice system.
The Saudi authorities invest heavily into construction projects designed to cater to Hajj pilgrims, and this has, on occasion, caused a few construction-related accidents.
In 2015, a crawler crane fell on the Masjid al-Haram, killing 111 pilgrims and injuring dozens of others. In the event something is being renovated or constructed, do not walk close to any construction site. Give all renovation sites a wide berth, always.
Since 2018, female pilgrims have spoken up about sexual abuse and harassment experienced on the Hajj. Although it is unlikely you'll experience severe harassment, don't be afraid to create a scene and don't feel the need to be polite in the event someone harasses you; no woman would be expected to put up with rotten behaviour like that.
The Hajj is time-consuming and can take a huge toll on your physical health. Many pregnant pilgrims suffer miscarriages during the Hajj. If you are expecting soon or if you are recuperating from an illness, it is strongly recommended that you postpone your trip.
There are several hospitals in Mecca.
- 1 King Faisal Hospital, ☏ +966 12 526 3200.
As the holiest city in Islam, appropriate religious prohibitions and attitudes should be in order. When you're here for either the Hajj or the Umrah, remember to eschew from the following: smoking, engaging in sexual relations, using foul language, shaving your hair and cutting your nails.
The various respect tips found in the Saudi Arabia article are of immense help. Familiarise yourself with Saudi etiquette before entering Mecca.
Refrain from pontificating about the Saudi government's construction campaign in the city; the issue is very sensitive among some.
You are bound to meet people from all over the world. Be open to new experiences, and don't feel afraid of communicating with anyone. Approach people with a positive attitude and you are apt to make friends; a gruff, impatient attitude may generate resentment.
It's actually forbidden to take photographs inside the Masjid Al-Haram, but the rules are not rigorously enforced. In fact, it is quite common to see people clicking away happily with their smart phones inside the mosque. You would, however, arouse suspicion from the staff if you come in with a fancy camera.
There's some disagreement on whether or not people should take photographs inside the Masjid Al-Haram. Although some don't see it as a big deal and will happily share their photographs with others, many others consider it incredibly disrespectful.
If you feel the need to take a photo, don't engage in "touristy" behaviour (i.e. acting like you're seeing a place for the first time in forever) and don't conduct yourself in a way that would be perceived as disruptive or annoying. Always be considerate to the people around you; chances are, other people take things more seriously than you do!
The four mobile operators in Saudi Arabia, incumbent Al Jawal, Emirati rival Mobily , Kuwaiti Zain (Vodafone Network) and STC newcomer Jawwy are fiercely competitive, with good coverage (in populated areas) and good prices.
You should be able to get a prepaid SMS at major airports, or at local shops nearby.
If you plan on spending some time in the Mecca Province, consider visiting the following cities:
- Medina — Islam's second holiest city. As is the case with Mecca, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.
- Taif — the unofficial summer capital of Saudi Arabia. Non-Muslims are allowed to enter.
- Jeddah — the second largest city in Saudi Arabia.