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Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and situated in Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the most revered site of the Islamic world. It is situated in the Sirat Mountains and is approximately forty-five miles from the port of Jidda, which is located on the Red Sea. Originally this ancient city was a popular way point for caravan traders on route to Southern Arabia, Asia and the Eastern portion of Africa. By the six century, Mecca was well on its way to becoming an important center for religion and trade.

In 570 Ad. Muhammad was born in Mecca. Muhammad would go on to preach about monotheism and as a result faced many years of persecution. All the while he began amassing a large number of followers. In 622 AD, Muhammad and his followers emigrated to Yathrib. By the year 630, Muhammad and his followers entered Mecca and took control of the city. After seizing control of the city Muhammad began systematically began destroying the almost four hundred pagan idols located there. He then declared Mecca as the holiest site in Islam. It was also designated as the major point for Muslim pilgrimage.

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is known as Haji. Haji is an obligation that is required of every able bodied Muslim. According to tradition, the Haji is to be begun on the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to show devotion to Allah and also show solidarity among the Muslim people. Today, the Haji attracts over three million visitors to Mecca each year. As a result, the economy of Mecca has become quite dependant on this influx of foreign money. It is estimated that the city takes in more than one hundred million dollars as a result of the Haji. While the pilgrimage nets the most income for the city, Mecca does have a few minor industries still operating there. These include furniture and utensil production and textiles.

The Masjid al-Haram, known as the Sacred Mosque, is the epicenter for the Haji. It covers an area of ninety-nine acres and can accommodate over a million people. This mosque was originally built in 638AD and has been continually added to and modified ever since. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture available in the world. The Masjid al-Haram surrounds an area known as the Kaaba . The Kaaba is considered to be the holiest location in the world according to Muslim tradition. The Kaaba is a large stone structure in the shape of a cube. It is about forty-three feet high. Its covered in a black silk curtain known as a Kiswah. On the eastern corner of the Kaaba is the Black Stone. It is a stone that is believed to date back to the time of Adam and Eve. It is twelve inches in diameter. Also located within the Masjid al-Haram is the Zamzam Well. The water from this well is believed to be blessed by Allah and able to cure not only thirst, but illness and hunger as well.

Another popular attraction in Mecca is the Jabal-al-noor or Mountain of Light. Its located in Mecca’s Hejaz region. On location is the Cave of Hira. This shrine is a popular place for pilgrims to visit and offer prayers up to Allah. This cave is where Muhammad sought refuge from the evils of society. It is also believe that this is the location where the archangel Gabriel revealed himself to the prophet and guided his endeavors.

The cuisine in Mecca is heavily influenced by the large influx of foreigners of different nationalities. This can be evidenced by the proximity and popularity of North American fast food chains to traditional Arabian restaurants. Popular dished eaten by the citizens of Mecca include Kabsa (a traditional dish of rice, spices and meat), Mandi (a dish featuring lamb and basmati rice) and Shawarma (a flat bread sandwich containing meat). Other popular food items in the city is Samosa, fava beans and Baklava.

Visitors need to keep in mind that there are no mass transit facilities available in this city. Travel around the city is done by either taxis or private vehicles. There are plenty of lodging accommodations available throughout the city. These include popular hotels such as the Hilton Makkah, Elaf Kindah-Makkah, Mercure Hibatullah and Makkah Al Mukaramah Elaf Ajyad. The Makkah Al Mukaramah Elaf Ajyad is the closet hotel to Masjid al-Haram and is only a few miles from the Al Hijaz shopping centre.