CAIRO — Saudi authorities have launched work on a new historic $10.6-billion expansion of the Al-Masjid al-Haram in the holy city of Makkah, increasing its capacity to more than 2.5 million worshippers.
“As King Abdullah wished, the whole Islamic world would be proud of the new expansion project,” Saleh Al-Hosain, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, told the Arab News daily.
The new expansion, approved by King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz, would cover an area of 400,000 sq. meters to accommodate 1.2 million worshippers.
The total area of the existing Haram Mosque is 356,000 sq. meters accommodating 770,000 worshippers.
The project would include as a multi-level extension on the north side of the complex as the main gate would be named after King Abdullah and will have two minarets, bringing the mosque’s total number of minarets to 11.
Along with the area added to the mosque, new stairways and tunnels would be erected to facilitate worshippers’ access to the mosque.
Moreover, other plans were included to expand the mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Holy Kaaba) and provide air-conditioning for all parts of the Grand Mosque, Muhammad Al-Khozaim, vice president of the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, said.
The new project would be completed in a year and a half, said Abdul Mohsen Bin Humaid, director of projects.
The expropriation and compensation policy was first adopted by late King Fahd in the 1980s.
Under King Fahd, a new wing and an outdoor prayer area were added to the mosque.
Another expansion saw the building of more minarets and prayer area in and around the mosque itself between 1988 and 2005.
It also saw the addition of 18 gates, three domes and the installation of nearly 500 marble columns.
In 2007, the entire mosque was fitted with air conditioning so that worshipers could perform their prayers in comfort.
Al-Masjid al-Haram is Islam’s holiest shrine and home to the Ka`bah, the direction Muslims take during prayers.
Presenting the new project to the welfare of worshippers, Makkah officials noted that it would have a good impact on boosting the grand city’s finance.
“Every SR1 billion spent by the government would encourage the private sector to invest an additional SR5 billion,” Makkah Mayor Osama Al-Bar told Arab News.
Al-Bar noted that the new projects launched by King Abdullah would boost business in Makkah and help the holy city attract new investments worth SR100 billion.
“This way the public investment would have a multiple effect on the economy.”
When establishing new King Abdul Aziz endowment towers, the project, one of the largest real estate projects in the Kingdom, would help accommodate about 50,000 pilgrims and visitors, said Nawaf Al-Jowharji, a member of Makkah Provincial Council.
Economists confirmed the financial value of the project
“The volume of spending on Makkah projects equals one third of the whole economy,” Aabid Al-Abdali of Umm Al-Qura University said.
Al-Abdali noted that the spending of SR40 billion would trigger an unprecedented economic boom in the holy city.
Along with the expansion project, King Abdullah officially inaugurated the 601-metre (1,983-foot) Mecca Royal Clock Tower.
The Makkah Clock Tower, the world’s largest clock tower, with four glimmering 46 meter-across (151 feet) faces of high-tech composite tiles, some laced with gold, started ticking in the first week of the past fasting month of Ramadan.
The clock tower is the world’s second tallest building, behind the Burj Khalifa, the 828-metre (2,717-foot) skyscraper inaugurated in Dubai early last year.
The Saudi government has championed several projects to develop and expand Makkah to help accommodate for the growing number of visitors.
During past year’s hajj, pilgrims were able to use the first stage of the first monorail in Makkah, dubbed as the “Holy Rituals Train” that links Makkah with the holy sites of Mina, `Arafah and Muzdalifah, all visited by massive tides of pilgrims.
The Jamrat Bridge has also been equipped with state-of-the-art technology to help authorities intervene in case of any deadly stampedes during the stoning ritual.