Mecca, also spelled Makkah, is a city in the Hejazi region of Saudi Arabia. The city is located 70 km (43 mi) inland from Jeddah, in a narrow valley 277 m (909 ft) above sea level and 340 kilometers (210 mi) south of Medina.
Mecca is the holiest city of the Islam religion and is located in the west of Saudi Arabia. With a population of 1.7 million people it is also one of the biggest cities in the country. Every year around 3 million Muslims perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and more than 13 million people visit Mecca annually.
It is the birthplace of Muhammad. A cave 3 km (2 mi) from Mecca was the site of Muhammad's first revelation of the Quran, and a pilgrimage to it, known as the Hajj, is obligatory for all able Muslims. Mecca is home to the Kaaba, one of Islam's holiest sites and the direction of Muslim prayer, and thus Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in Islam. Mecca was long ruled by Muhammad's descendants, the sharifs, acting either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger polities. It was conquered by Ibn Saud in 1925; since then Mecca has seen a tremendous expansion in size and infrastructure, such as the Abraj Al Bait, also known as the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, the world's fourth tallest building and the building with the third largest amount of floor area, and lost some historical structures and archaeological sites, such as the Ajyad Fortress. Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the city.
Makkah can ideally be described as the capital of Islam. It has many beautiful and historic places which everyone regardless of his/her religion would like to visit. Owing to the huge influx of Muslim pilgrims and to maintain the sanctity of this Holy place, the Saudi government has forbidden non-Muslims to enter Grand Mosque but they are allowed to visit every other mosque in the city. For Muslims, Makkah is at the center of their religion and it is compulsory for every Muslim to perform Hajj once in a life time if they can afford such a journey. Mecca is famous not only for its priceless religious landmarks. It’s an incredibly beautiful and dynamic place with numerous interesting architectural decorations.
Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia, but English is widely spoken. It is used in business and is a compulsory second language in schools. Among the non-Saudi population, many people speak Urdu, the official language of Pakistan and other Asian languages such as Farsi and Turkish. Arabic is spoken by almost 200 million people in more than 22 countries. It is the language of the Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, and of Arab poetry and literature. While spoken Arabic varies from country to country, classical Arabic has remained unchanged for centuries.
Mecca is full of hotels, from the Hilton to unknown hotels with various facilities. The price varies according to the hotel's distance from the Holy Mosque. Some of the world's greatest hotels are situated in Mecca, and are full year-round. Make sure to book early on our website (web.restscene.com), as soon as you know your dates of travel.
The official currency of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the riyal. There are 100 halalas in 1 riyal, though halala coins are not commonly used. Riyal bills come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. The riyal is currently pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of US$1 = SR3.75.Even if you are traveling with a pre-paid package tour, you will need money for food, gifts, taxis, tips and alms. Cash is commonly used, and automatic teller machines (ATMs) are found throughout Makkah. Foreign credit and debit cards are accepted at all but the smallest hotels, shops and restaurants. Generally, taxis only accept cash. Banks are open from 9:30am to 4:30pm, Sunday through Thursday. ATMs are found in most bank buildings and are available 24/7.
The diplomatic missions of Saudi Arabia issue special visas for those making the pilgrimage to Mecca, either Hajj or Umrah. Most pilgrims opt to use a specialist travel agency, which will handle the considerable paperwork for them. As usual in Saudi Arabia, women must travel together with a male guardian (Mahram), unless they are over 45, travelling with a group and have their guardian's signed consent.
Hajj visas are allocated on a quota system, based on the number of Muslims in a country. In some cases, those who have previously done Hajj have had additional restrictions placed on their next Hajj, in an effort to discourage overcrowding while still accommodating those who have not yet made the pilgrimage. Umrah visas can be obtained at any time of the year except during the Hajj season. If the applicant is not a national of a Muslim-majority country or was not born a Muslim, s/he must present a certificate notarized by an Islamic center testifying that s/he is a Muslim. Usually, your mosque will be able to arrange this or at least point the way.
Local buses, taxis, and micro-buses are widely available in Mecca and are inexpensive. The 18-kilometre Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro opened in November 2010. A total of 5 metro lines are planned to carry pilgrims to the religious sites. Public transport is continually improving thanks to government initiatives. This makes it easier and quicker for visitors to access the Grand Mosque and other central areas and holy sites in Makkah, even during busy times like Ramadan and the Hajj season.
When your mind is focused on the spiritual side of the pilgrimage, it’s easy to forget important documents: passport, flight tickets, flight schedule, hotel address in Makkah or Madinah, etc. Last-minute items that are often forgotten include your phone and charger, glasses and contact lenses, sunglasses and a small notebook. Of course, remember to pack a Koran and a booklet of the adhkaar (invocations), plus a guide to Hajj or a guide to Umrah.
If you are staying at a 5-star hotel in Makkah and realize you have forgotten something, please ask at reception. With their local knowledge and experience, the staff will help you find a replacement.
Despite strict crowd control measures, overcrowding and stampedes are major hazards during the month of the Hajj, killing dozens of people. Mina, Jamrat and the bridges leading to them are known to be particularly dangerous, although steps have been taken to alleviate this: there are now four parallel bridges and the route is now unidirectional. And also, during the Hajj, pickpockets are not uncommon. Avoid having any valuables on your person when traversing through the crowds. In other words, be on the safe side and don't take chances.
There are many types of food from all over the world available in Mecca, from the Middle Eastern Arab food to Southeast Asian food. There are also American fast food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dunkin Donuts. No type of pork, ham or any part of the pig is served in Saudi Arabia as forbidden by Islamic Law. Below are some of the foods to try while in Mecca.
Zamzam Water is holy water from the Zamzam spring in Masjid al Haram and believed to be divinely blessed is preferred among pilgrims to Mecca. There are many tea shops that serve tea and cookies. There are also many juice vendors right outside the Mosque, who sell apple, mango and strawberry juices for 1 SAR. As this is Saudi Arabia, the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages is strictly forbidden; the local Saudis of Mecca (somewhat ironically) do have a reputation for being big drinkers in private, but don't expect to be invited to the private parties where they drink.
Keeping in mind that the food offered here is for pilgrims, the Makkah food prices are kept quite reasonably fixed. It is said that Mecca welcomes neither the rich nor the poor, instead it welcomes pious minds and prayers of the pilgrims. Meccan food thus offers solace to the pilgrims, far away from home in a distant land. When they eat the food of their culture or of their ancestors, they feel right at home and comfortable with the prayer hours.
Modern Mecca is not only the largest pilgrimage center of the country but also one of the most frequently visited religious centers in the world. Despite the fact that foreign guests arrive in the city exclusively to visit the holy shrines, Mecca is ready to provide them with everything needed for a luxurious stay.