The Holy Mosque in Makkah is the most revered place of worship for Muslims around the world. At the center of the Mosque is the Ka'aba, which literally means 'cube' in Arabic. All Muslims are required to face in the direction of the Ka'aba five times every day when offering their prayers.
Muslims believe that the Ka'aba, constructed of stone blocks, was originally built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmail. Many believe it was erected on the original site of a sanctuary established by the first Prophet, Adam. Embedded in the corner of the structure is the Black Stone, a meteorite used by Abraham as a foundation stone. This stone, although respected as the only surviving object from the original building, has never been worshipped and has no special sanctity or power.
Over the years, the message of Abraham was forgotten, and the Ka`ba became filled with idols, some say as many as 365 of them. People continued to make the pilgrimage, but it had become an idolatrous business enterprise for the pagan tribe of the Qu'raysh, the residents of the city of Makkah who were the traditional custodians of the Ka`ba.
After the peaceful re-conquest of Makkah in the year 630 AD by Prophet Muhammad, the Ka`ba was purified of the idols in it and the pilgrimage made obligatory for all Muslims at least once in a lifetime, if feasible, and worship returned to that of Allah alone, the one and only God and Creator. At that time, the Holy Mosque consisted of an open circular plaza no larger that 2,000 square meters, located in the center of the city.
Throughout Islamic history, successive Islamic regimes have spared no cost or effort to dignify and honor the Holy Mosque of Makkah. To do so was not only a matter of extreme pride, but was also viewed as the highest and most solemn of responsibilities a ruler has towards Muslim pilgrims. In the year 638, after flash floods had damaged the Holy Mosque, the Caliph Omar Bin Al-Khatab repaired the damage and enclosed the courtyard, extending the area by 500 square meters. His successor Uthman Bin Affan made a further extension in 646, estimated at 1,700 square meters. The Holy Mosque enclosure was once again enlarged in 684 by Abdullah Bin Al-Zubair, increasing the area by 3,300 square meters. In 754, 5,300 square meters were added by Abu Ja'far Al-Mansour.
The successive extensions of Muhammad Al-Mahdi increased the area of the Holy Mosque by 15,000 square meters, and when the Dar Al-Nadhwa was encompassed within the Holy Mosque by Al-Mutadil Al-Abbasi, another 1,300 square meters were added. Finally, in 918 Al-Muqtadri Al-Abassi added a 950-square-meter entrance hall, increasing the area of the Holy Mosque to a total of 30,200 square meters. This size and layout was to be maintained for over one thousand years.
The modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 by King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, and during his reign a new extension was contemplated. This, however, was only executed after his death, beginning in 1955 with the development of the Masa'a, the sacred track that follows the path that Haggar took between Mount Safa and Mount Marwa. It had always been set apart from the Holy Mosque, out in the open and exposed to the heat, dust and distractions of the city marketplace. The first phase of the project was to enclose the Masa'a and incorporate it into the Holy Mosque complex.
Construction continued over the next twenty years, with surrounding districts of the old city demolished to make way for the expansion of the Holy Mosque, designed as a series of concentric octagons radiating from the existing structure. The Mata'af was cleared of some old pavilions, including the one over the well of Zam-Zam, which was relocated nearby. This meant that when the expansion was finally completed in 1976, 300,000 worshippers could complete their sacred rituals in comfort and with full concentration.
This immense extension, however, was not adequate for the unforeseen numbers of worshippers now coming to Makkah with the momentous changes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and in the Muslim world, and a great strain was placed on the Holy Mosque and the surrounding city. To cope with this, an ongoing program of improvements was undertaken by the government, including the replacement of the Mata'af paving with pure white marble to keep it cool to the feet under the most intense heat.
As Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz continued the policy of previous Saudi leaders to expand the facilities at the holy sites to facilitate the annual pilgrimage for a greater number of Muslims from around the world: today more than two million pilgrims take part in the annual Hajj. In 1988 he laid the foundation stone for a project designed to double the capacity of the Holy Mosque. It was completed in 1992, expanding the Holy Mosque in Makkah and its surroundings to accommodate more than one million worshippers at any one time. It is for the Ummah, the Islamic Community, that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques made this magnificent contribution to the architectural legacy of the Holy Mosque, so that believers may worship the Lord in His House in an atmosphere of majesty and beauty.
The prayer area alone was increased by 76,000 square meters, including a basement, ground, and first floors as well as a roof, and designed to accommodate an additional 170,000 worshippers. At the same time a piazza extending from Al-Masa'a was constructed, plus a continuous piazza surrounding the rest of the mosque, covering a combined area of 86,800 square meters and increasing the capacity of the Holy Mosque complex from 300,000 to 700,000 worshippers.
Included in the new extension are two new 89-meter-tall minarets soaring over the new King Fahd Gate. Each is identical to the seven minarets of the existing mosque. In addition, two escalator annexes have been added as well as the extension's centerpiece, three massive domes, each 15 meters in diameter and 30 meters high.
Many new technologies were developed specially for the latest expansion, and from all over the world teams of specialists, engineers, artists and craftsmen assembled to bestow on the House of Allah and its visitors the best that human ingenuity has to offer. Deep excavations were carried out to accommodate a two-level basement area extending beneath the entire extension to house auxiliary prayer space and utilities and services for the Holy Mosque.