World Bulletin / News Desk
The Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca, where millions of Muslims from around the world convene every year for the annual hajj pilgrimage, will be able to host around 10 million worshippers when the ongoing expansion project, the largest in the mosque's history, is completed.
There have been many projects to expand the capacity of the Grand Mosque, but the latest one will be the largest. It will increase the size of the mosque to 500,000 square meters, double its current size.
The mosque was first expanded by the Saudis in 1954, increasing its capacity to 300,000 people. The second expansion project took place during the reign of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, which increased the capacity to 630,000 people. The latest project is sponsored by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.
Currently, 52,000 Muslims can circumambulate the Kaaba in one hour. This figure is estimated to increase to 130,000 once the expansion project is complete.
The current project is being carried out in two stages. The first, which began in 2009, involved the demolition of 2,350 hotels, offices and other buildings around the mosque, with another 1,900 buildings set to be demolished soon.
The Saudi government is reportedly paying as high as 500,000 Saudi riyals (around $133,000) per square meter to the owners of the buildings close to the mosque in return for the expropriation. This brings the total figure to around $100 billion.
During the second stage, which is currently being carried out, the prayer area will be expanded.
Hotels will be built in the Jabal Omar region near the mosque to provide accommodation for 200,000 pilgrims. There are also ongoing efforts to ease transportation in Mecca, all of which have turned the city into a giant construction site.
To minimize the risk of overcrowding and to lessen congestion on the roads, the Saudi authorities began operating a Chinese-built train in 2010 that stops at hajj sites. Once fully functional, the railway is expected to reduce congestion caused by buses and cars during the hajj. It will also carry pilgrims performing their umrah, or lesser pilgrimage, throughout the year. Once completed, the Saudis estimate that 53,000 buses will disappear from the city's crowded roads, promising a safer and more comfortable pilgrimage.
Currently, about 3 million pilgrims travel to Mecca every year for the annual hajj. It is estimated that the city will be able to host 10 million pilgrims once the ongoing projects are completed.