The Great Mecca Masjid Saudi Arabia: The Endless Tale of Expansions

The Great Mecca Masjid Saudi Arabia

The Significance of the Great Mecca Masjid

The Religious significance of the cities of Mecca and Madina sticks out a mile. The Great Mosque of Mecca or the Grand Mosque of Mecca, locally known as the Masjid al-Haram, literally translates to the Sacred Mosque, is of immense religious significance to the Muslims. Located in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, it is the largest mosque that can host up to 2.5 million worshippers and is built around one of Islam’s Holiest sites, the Kaaba.

Other entities and spaces of religious significance enclosed within the mosque complex include the Black Stone (al-Hajr al-Aswad), the hills of Safa and Marwa, Zamzam Well, and Maqam Ibrahim. Masjid al-Haram takes center stage in the all-year-long Umrah and seasonal Hajj pilgrimages, ensuring no worshiper leaves without visiting the Masjid at least once in their lifetime. For this very reason and the increasing number of pilgrims, the mosque has seen endless restorations and expansions over time since its inception.

The History of Masjid Al-Haram Saudi Arabia

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Structure around the Kaaba in 1718 from a Dutch Book_america.cgtn

While the holy Kaaba is a structure that is believed to predate Islam, the seeds of the Great Mosque of Mecca around the Kaaba were sown only in the 7th century. In the 7th Century CE, Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab erected a wall around the Kaaba after tearing down the buildings surrounding the Kaaba, marking the beginning of the construction of a mosque around the Kaaba. In 777 CE, Caliph Al Mahdi built a larger mosque based on a grid plan after demolishing the existing mosque to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims visiting Mecca.

Since then, the mosque underwent several restorations and expansions, even before the emergence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, mainly to cope with the rising number of pilgrims visiting the mosque.

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The Historic Image of Mecca Madina in 1850_america.cgtn

The Holy Kaaba

The Great Mecca Masjid Saudi Arabia: The Endless Tale of Expansions The Religious significance of the cities of Mecca and Madina sticks out a mile. The Great Mosque of Mecca or the Grand Mosque of Mecca, locally known as the Masjid al-Haram, literally translates to the Sacred Mosque, is of immense religious significance to the Muslims. Located in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, it is the largest mosque that can host up to 2.5 million worshippers and is built around one of Islam’s Holiest sites, the Kaaba. mecca masjid,mecca,mecca madina,mecca saudi arabia,saudi arabia
The Holy Kaaba_visitsaudi

Al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah, or simply Kaaba translating to the Cube is one of the holiest Islamic structures towards which Muslims all over the world face while offering Salah (prayer). It is considered to be the Bayt Allah, the House of God, and the Masjid Al-Haram is built around the holy Kaaba. The information gathered from madainproject, assures that traditionally it is believed that the Kaaba was originally built by prophet Adam and again reconstructed upon its disappearance over time, by prophet Ibrahim with his son prophet Ismail. It subsequently underwent further restorations and renovations in 1957 and 1996.

The holy Kaaba architecturally is a cuboidal structure 12.03 – 13.1 meters high, 11.03 meters long, and 12.86 meters wide built with gray stone and marble. Its orientation is such that the corners of the cuboidal structure point approximately toward the four cardinal directions. Though the Kaaba is made of stone, it remains covered by a cloth of black brocade, locally called the kiswah.

The Door of the Kaaba

The main facade of the holy Kaaba hosts the door to the Holy Kaaba that is 2.13m above the ground and is accessed by an external portable staircase occasionally. This staircase was designed and made with carved high relief teak wood with inlaid lapis lazuli stone while the gold door weighing a massive 300 kilograms was made by chief artist Ahmad bin Ibrahim Badr in 1979. Interestingly, Ahmed’s father had made the silver door for the Kaaba in 1942, which was replaced with the gold doors that he made.

The Black Stone (Al-Ḥajar ul-Aswad)

While the Kaaba in itself is holy, it hosts another element of religious significance in its eastern corner which is the Black stone, or al-Ḥajar ul-Aswad in Arabic. It is located approximately 1.5 meters from the ground and the pilgrims touch or kiss the holy stone following religious beliefs. However, only a small part of the stone is visible as only the fragments of the stone are held together by a silver frame in the eastern corner of the Kaaba.

The Yemeni Corner (Al-Rukn Al-Yamaani)

The Yemeni corner, also called Al-Rukn Al-Yamani in Arabic is another large vertical stone placed in the corner opposite to that of the Black stone in the Kaaba, facing Yemen hence justifying its name. The pilgrims touch the stone while performing Tawaf (circumambulating around the Kaaba). 

Inside the Kaaba

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Interiors of the Kaaba_MadainProject

The accessible floor of the Kaaba is 2.2 meters above the ground and accessed by an external portable staircase as discussed above. While marble and limestone adorn the floors, interior walls are clad with white marble tiles and the skirting along the floor is darker than the rest of the tiles. Kaaba hosts three wooden pillars supporting the roof in the interiors, along with tablets containing inscriptions and silver and gold lamps decorating the space. 

The Circumambulation Space, Mataf 

The circumambulating space is closely associated with the Islamic tradition of circumambulating the Kaaba during the Hajj/ Umrah pilgrimage. Since circumambulation is the key idea behind Mataf, it witnessed several demolitions and expansions to facilitate this tradition. The massive 14,000 square meters area around the Kaaba paved with Carrara marble, was initially just of sand. Though few structures like the Zam Zam building, Bab Bani Shaybah, an Ottoman-era pulpit (minbar), and Mukkabariya (Adhan platform) were demolished to ease the tawaf.

Other significant structures like Maqam Ibrahim, a shrine enclosing the stone bearing the footprint of prophet Ibrahim, and Hatīm, a low semicircular structure close to the Kaaba were retained and are an integral part of the circumambulation space.

The Linear Gallery, Al-Masa’a

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Al Masa’a gallery_mecca saudi arabia

Like the Mataf area, the significance of this gallery is directly connected with Islamic traditions and beliefs. Brisk walking or running between Mount Safa and Mount Marwa not once but seven times back and forth is a part of the Umrah/ Hajj pilgrimage and this is called Sai in Arabic which is literally equivalent to seeking or searching or walking. The Al-Masa’a Gallery or the Sa’i Gallery encloses this path facilitating the act of ‘sai’. The gallery is 450 meters long and segmented into four one-way lanes; two indoor and the other two partially outdoor.

The construction of this enclosure was done during the first Saudi expansion until then, the path between the hills of Marwah and Safa was called Al-Masa’a street and flourished with shops on either side of the street covered with an arched roof resembling the traditional Ottoman souq, as studied from the madainproject. The new expansion facilitated ‘sai’ for the old and disabled pilgrims with its’ inclusive design. 

Minarets of the Masjid

The Grand Mosque of Mecca has the highest number of minarets than any other mosque in the world. At present, thirteen minarets dot the Mosque Complex amplifying the adhan (call for prayer). The minarets of the Masjid consist of a base, the connecting shaft, 2 balconies, and the spire. During the reign of Caliph Abu Jafaar Al-Mansour, in 137-139 A.H. the first minaret, Minaret of Bab Al-Umrah was constructed in the northwest corner which was again reconstructed during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 931 AH. 

According to Wafy, there were seven minarets including the first minaret namely, the Minaret of Bab Al-Umrah, the Minaret of Bab Al-Wada’, the Minaret of Bab Al-Salam, the Minaret of Bab Ali, the Minaret of Bab Al-Ziyadah, the Minaret of Qaytbay and the Minaret of Sultan Suleiman until the year 1374 A.H. These seven minarets were replaced during the first Saudi expansion in an attempt to unify the look, two new minarets were added during the second Saudi expansion and four more minarets were added in the third Saudi expansion subsequently leading to thirteen minarets in total, as stated in Wafy.

Doors (Bab) to the Masjid 

This enormous mosque complex can be accessed via more than 200 ornately decorated doors (bab). The doors or gates were extensively altered throughout expansions and restorations. These doors were named after significant spiritual figures, religious sites, surroundings, political leaders, and in some cases after remarkable events. For instance, Bab Ismail was named after the prophet Ismail, and Bab Umrah indicates the Umrah. 

Bab Bani Shaibah a free-standing arch near the Kaaba, was an important Bab to the Masjid since earlier days, but was demolished. However, the new gate that provides access to the Al-Masa’a gallery is named Bab Bani Shaibah in honor of the old gate/arch. There are many other important gates like Bab as-Salam which literally means the Gate Of Peace and is located close to Mount Marwah, Bab Malik Fahad which was constructed during the second Saudi expansion, the restored Bab Malik ‘Abdulaziz with its modern architectural style in complete contrast with the original Ottoman architectural style, etc. 

Expansion Chronology of the Masjid 

With the above-furnished information, it is obvious that the Mosque has undergone significant expansion even after the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This part of the article attempts to organize the data on expansions post-establishment of the Kingdom in chronological order and the three major expansions that took place are mentioned above as first Saudi expansion, second Saudi expansion, and third Saudi expansion.  

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First saudi Expansion_Madainproject

During the reign of Malik al-Saud, the first Saudi expansion took place between 1955 and 1973 CE. The major works included replacing the existing minarets to create a unified appearance, paving the floor with marble, refurnishing the ceiling, and constructing the Al-Masa’a Gallery.   

Second Saudi Expansion_Madainproject
Second Saudi Expansion_Madainproject

During the reign of King Fahad, the second Saudi expansion took place in two phases between 1982 and 1988 CE and 1988 to 2005 CE. During the first phase of the expansion, an outdoor prayer area and a new building were added which could be accessed by the King Fahd Gate. The gate was adorned with two minarets. During the next phase, 18 more gates were opened, and nearly 500 marble columns were erected, which was followed by the installation of heated floors, air-conditioning, escalators, and a drainage system.

Islamic Landmarks_ Islamiclandmarks
Islamic Landmarks_ Islamiclandmarks

The third Saudi expansion or Malik ‘Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz expansion was initiated in 2008 CE  during King Abdullah’s reign. The expansion aimed at 300,000 square meters of multi-level extension on the north side of the complex with a capacity of 1.2 million worshippers, including new stairways and tunnels, a gate named after King Abdullah.  

The fourth Saudi expansion initiated by King Salman in 2015, under construction, is discussed below. 


This prestigious piece of Islamic Architecture has stood the test of time and has overcome tragic events like that of the crane collapse of 2015 and the COVID-19 Pandemic. On 5th March 2020, the Grand Mosque was closed during the night and several restrictions came into being which were slowly relaxed in three phases from October 4th, the same year due to the outbreak of the pandemic.

The first phase allowed pilgrims from Saudi Arabia equalling 30% of the mosque’s total capacity to perform Umrah, which was raised to 75% in the second phase, all with precautionary and sanitation measures, and subsequently in the third phase pilgrims from all over the world equalling to 100% of the mosque total capacity could offer their prayers at the Masjid.  

Rou’a Al-Haram_saudigazette
Rou’a Al-Haram_saudigazette

Aligning with the Saudi Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has established the Rou’a Al-Haram to develop residential and commercial areas near the holy Mosque of Mecca to meet the hospitality needs of the pilgrims reaching Mecca, anticipated to reach 30 million every year. The company aims to develop 70,000 new hotel rooms, with a capacity of 310,000 visitors per day, approximately 9,000 residential units, commercial space covering an area of 360,000 square meters, and prayer areas designated for more than 400,000 worshipers in its first phase.

While the Rou’a Al-Haram was established to foster the needs of pilgrims to Mecca, Rou’a Al-Madinah was also simultaneously established and operating to cater to the needs of the holy city of Medina. These projects together were envisioned to not only improve the hospitableness of the holy sites but also create investment and job opportunities and gradually diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia. 

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Jabal Omar development, Mecca_RMJM

There is no ambiguity surrounding the fact that the earlier expansions, subsequent restorations, and the planned future developments in and around the Grand Mosque of Mecca, all absolutely aim to foster an appealing environment for the growing number of pilgrims, with splendid architecture, breathtaking spaces, and timeless experience.  


  1. Was the mosque altered between the 8th CE and the 20th century CE?

Yes, the mosque was significantly altered during the Ottoman era firstly in 1570 CE upon the orders of  Sultan Selim II. The chief architect Mimar Sinan replaced the flat roof with domes decorated with calligraphy internally and placed new support columns.  These elements are regarded as the earliest features of the mosque today.

Secondly, in 1621 and 1629 CE, due to heavy rains and flash floods, the mosque was subjected to extensive damage, and in response, the mosque was renovated. The notable interventions of the second renovation are the addition of a new stone arcade, the construction of three more minarets to the existing four minarets, and retiling of the marble flooring.  

  1. When did electricity enter the mosque complex?

The first electric lighting system was installed as early as the beginning of the 20th century, during the reign of Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī followed by an electric public-address system which was first used in 1948.

  1. Can non-Muslims pay a visit to the Great Mosque of Mecca?

Non-Muslims cannot visit the Mosque, however, they can learn about the mosque with the help of literature, history, videos, and interviews.