History of the Makkah al Mukarramah / Al-Masjid al-Haram
Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām (المسجد الحرام (pronounced [ʔælˈmæsdʒɪd ælħɑˈrɑːm] "The Sacred Mosque"), is the largest mosque in the world. Located in the city of Mecca, it surrounds the Kaaba, the place which Muslims turn towards while offering daily prayers and is considered the holiest place on Earth by Muslims. The mosque is also known as the Grand Mosque.
The current structure covers an area of 400,800 square metres (99.0 acres) including the outdoor and indoor praying spaces and can accommodate up to 4 million worshippers during the Hajj period, one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world.
The most significant architectural and structural changes came, and continue to come, from the Saudi status of ‘Guardian of the Holy Places’ and the honorific title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (the other being the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina) been afforded to King Abdul Aziz. Many of the previously mentioned features – particularly the support columns – were destroyed in spite of their historical value. In their place came artificial stone and marble, the ceiling was refurnished and the floor was replaced. The Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, an important part of both Hajj and Umrah, came to be included in the Mosque itself during this time via roofing and enclosement. Also during this first Saudi renovation four minarets were added.
The second Saudi renovations, this time under King Fahd, added a new wing and an outdoor prayer area to the Mosque. The new wing which is also for prayers is accessed through the King Fahd Gate. This extension is considered to have been from 1982-1988.
The third Saudi extension (1988-2005) saw the building of further minarets, the erecting of a King’s residence overlooking the Mosque and further prayer area in and around the mosque itself. These developments have taken place simaltenously with those in Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah. This third extension has also resulted in 18 more gates been built, three domes corresponding in position to each gate and the installation of nearly 500 marble columns.
Modern but essentially non-architectural developments have been the addition of heated floors, air conditioning, escalators and a drainage system.
The death of King Fahd means that the Mosque is now undergoing a fourth extension which began in 2007 and is projected to last until 2020. King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz plans to increase the capacity of the mosque by 35% from its current maximum capacity of 800,000 with 1,120,000 outside the Mosque itself.