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SAUDI ARABIA: Revamping Islam's holiest site

December 7, 2008 |  9:39 am

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As more than 2 million Muslims are flooding Mecca for the annual hajj, Saudi Arabia is undertaking the delicate task of modernizing Islam's holiest site. The multi-billion-dollar enterprise is expected to be the world's largest architecture renovation project and include luxury hotels and residential skyscrapers, according to news reports.

The British media report that two of the most sought-after architects in the world, Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid, have been approached for the designs. The king of Saudi Arabia is reportedly involved in planning the renovation, which is slated to be completed by 2012.

Each year, the holy city of Mecca receives millions of hajj pilgrims from across the Muslim world. Under the tenets of Islam, every Muslim is required to make the pilgrimage at least once in his lifetime. But the current size of the site is apparently to small to accomodate worshippers. Overcrowding in recent years resulted in several fatal accidents, including a stampede in 2006 that killed 300 pilgrims.

The expansion and renovation project would be created around the central Haram mosque and is expected to more than triple the site's capacity, making it the largest public gathering space in the world.

According to Architects’ Journal, a UK architectural weekly, the Saudi proposal has been divided into two tracks. These would coincide with a current project to build hundreds of skyskrapers to house pilgrims. Abraj Al Bait Towers, one of the buildings in the overall redevelopment plan, aims to be one of the world’s tallest buildings.

The Saudi British bank estimates the budget of the project to reach more than $22 billion, according to British media.

— Kaheld Hijab in Beirut

Photo: A general view of Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca Dec. 5, 2008. Over 2 million Muslim pilgrims arrive in the holy city of Mecca this week for the hajj pilgrimage, one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and duty for able-bodied Muslims. Credit: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah.

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