(NY Times) New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on.

The tower is just one of many construction projects in the very center of Mecca, from train lines to numerous luxury high-rises and hotels and a huge expansion of the Grand Mosque. The historic core of Mecca is being reshaped in ways that many here find appalling, sparking unusually heated criticism of the authoritarian Saudi government.

“It is the commercialization of the house of God,” said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who founded a research center that studies urban planning issues surrounding the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and has been one of the development’s most vocal critics. “The closer to the mosque, the more expensive the apartments. In the most expensive towers, you can pay millions” for a 25-year leasing agreement, he said. “If you can see the mosque, you pay triple.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchArtReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastSaudi Arabia* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

9 Comments
Posted December 30, 2010 at 3:28 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Old Pilgrim wrote:

Sounds like it’s past time to drive out the money-changers…

December 30, 7:06 pm | [comment link]
2. Vatican Watcher wrote:

This is nothing new.  The House of Saud follows the Wahhabi sect which frowns upon any kind of honoring of Muhammad (through images of him, locations dedicated to him alone, and so on) beyond his role as messenger of Allah.  Anything that has to do with the historical Muhammad and the Mecca of his time, archeological sites, etc., have been paved over or torn out over the years in an iconoclastic bid to make the Prophet faceless.

With that done, it’s only logical for the Saudis to rebuild Mecca as they please.  Their tasteless choices are reminiscent of Albert Speer’s oversized Berlin with its huge monolithic buildings designed beyond all sense of scale and its love of recreating monuments like the Arc de Triomphe, only many times bigger.

December 30, 8:57 pm | [comment link]
3. Creedal Episcopalian wrote:

Moslem disneyland.

December 30, 11:12 pm | [comment link]
4. kmh1 wrote:

The time on the clock will always say 632.

December 31, 4:25 am | [comment link]
5. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Well, given the peaceful nature of Islam, I’m sure its only a matter of time before someone makes such infidelities go the way of all the earth.

December 31, 7:02 am | [comment link]
6. NoVA Scout wrote:

There’s no accounting for taste.  I’m not sure why I should care other than a personal penchant for historical accuracy.  Mecca is indeed historic.  One would think that the Saudi Government would be more inclined to preserve as much of the ancient appearance of the place than to let all this glitz invade the terrain.  They have the centralized power and money to do things any way they want.  Why not put all this neon-ish stuff a little distance off and preserve the appearance of the area as much as possible?  If I were a Muslim pilgrim, I think I would get more out of visiting a site that had some visual links with the past of my religion than going to a place that was not largely distinguishable from Las Vegas.

December 31, 7:04 am | [comment link]
7. St. Nikao wrote:

Typical of the culture. 

If you have time, Google ‘Dubai’ and ‘Qatar.’

December 31, 7:24 am | [comment link]
8. Eutychus wrote:

The religion of Mecca is business and the business of Mecca is religion.  That was true before Mohammad when Mecca was just trading town where tribes traded under the guise of religion when Allah was just one of many tribal gods worshiped there.  It has been true after Mohammad declared Allah to be the only “god” and later came back to Mecca and converted it by the SWORD.  It has been true to this day.  I find that the Big Ben Holiday Inn/Mosque is true to the spirit and history of Mecca.

December 31, 11:36 am | [comment link]
9. kmh1 wrote:

At last! A place with worse architecture than ORU!

January 1, 3:33 am | [comment link]
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