Mecca past and present

Depiction of Mecca and Medina from Dala’il al-khayrat (c. 1600 – 1700, Deccan, India)

Depiction of Mecca from Dala’il al-khayrat

British Library. Or. 16161 fols 17b-18a

Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli (d. 1465) was a Moroccan religious scholar who had a vast following. His book of prayers, Dala’il al-khayrat (Guide to Happiness), one of the most popular throughout the Islamic world, has been constantly reproduced. The book consists of prayers to the Prophet Muhammad and the structure of the book encourages the reader to bestow blessings on the Prophet on certain days of the week. Wherever the manuscript was reproduced, the paintings took on the local style. The onion-shaped domes of the mosque at Medina are characteristically Indian. All other representations of Medina and Mecca maintain the same elements and style as seen in Hajj certificates.

A bird’s-eye view of Mecca (1803, Vienna)

A bird’s-eye view of Mecca

British Museum 1871,0513.28

This panorama of Mecca was drawn by the Austrian Orientalist Andreus Magnus Hunglinger and engraved by Carl Ponheimer. It is closely based on an illustration in Mouradgea d’Ohsson’s Tableau Général de l’Empire Ottoman, published in 1787. A long caravan of pilgrims cross the desert from mount ‘Arafat and pour into the sanctuary. There is a key to sixty locations in and around the sanctuary. Neither d’Ohsson nor the engravers he worked with actually went to Mecca; they would have based the description and drawing on existing illustrations and the accounts of Turkish pilgrims.

A panoramic view of Mecca (c. 1845, probably Mecca)

A panoramic view of Mecca

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, MSS 1077 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

This painting was commissioned by the Sharif of Mecca, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Mu’min (r. 1827–1851). A remarkable panorama, it provides a detailed plan of the city from a bird’s eye view. The Persian description lists places around the sanctuary such as "the fortress of Umar" and "the market of Safa and Marwa". The artist Muhammad ‘Abd Allah is described in the inscription below as "cartographer of Delhi", he probably resided in Mecca. His grandfather, Mazar ‘Ali Khan, was court painter to the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II (r. 1837– 58). Richard Burton, who in 1853 visited the holy city in disguise, remarked that "some Indians support themselves by depicting the holy shrines; their works are a truly Oriental mixture of ground plan and elevation, drawn with pen and ink, and brightened with the most vivid colours".

View of the holy sanctuary at Mecca (c. 1880)

View of the holy sanctuary at Mecca

Victoria and Albert Museum, PH.2132-1924

This view is from the east of the holy mosque with the city of Mecca in the background. Muhammad Sadiq Bey (1832-1902), the Egyptian army engineer, surveyor and a pioneer of photography, probably took this photograph from one of the minarets of the holy mosque. In the courtyard of the mosque, from left to right, can be seen the Maqam Maliki, the Ka‘ba, Maqam Hanafi (behind the Ka‘ba), the structure erected over the Zamzam well, and the Maqam Shafi‘i.

Read more about Muhammad Sadiq Bey  

Hajj in the Mecca Sanctuary by Shadia Alem, 2010

Hajj in the Sacred Mosque taken by Shadia Alem

Shadia Alem

In the mid-20th century, it became clear that the Sacred Mosque could not accommodate the increasing numbers of pilgrims. King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Sa‘ud (1880-1953) decided that it had to be extended as a matter of urgency. Work eventually began in 1956. The Sanctuary as we see it today is the result of four phases which have included rerouting the main road that crossed between the hills of Safa and Marwa, the demolition of historic areas and the construction of new buildings and minarets.

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council