The changing face of Mecca

Every now and again, I realise I haven’t posted anything for weeks and so commence a big post taking in several things I have read, found or done in the period since my previous missive. None of these has gone so far as to be completed, either because I lost interest or (in the case of my most recent attempt) because I lost my wireless connection before I had the chance to save what I had written. This has at least allowed me to reflect on what is of more than passing interest and use what passes that test to be the subject of a dedicated post.

One such piece is this fascinating article by Oliver Wainwright on the Guardian website, which I first came across a good few weeks back while at work. Reading it well and truly overturned my preconception of Mecca being a dusty and somewhat quiet desert city outside of the Hajj period – much like my visit to Ulan Baatar last year (a city that comes highly recommended, by the way). I had absolutely no idea that Mecca was undergoing such an extraordinary metamorphosis in its built environment. Do I think it’s regrettable that so much of the city’s history is being erased and replaced with some frankly hideous looking buildings (though I must say that the enormo-carriage clock-like Abraj al-Bait has a bizarre charm)? You might have guessed from the theme and content of this blog that I am someone who is inclined to the preservation of the historic and, sure enough, my initial reaction was that the destruction of old Mecca is something to be regretted and curtailed. On reflection, however, my opinion changed. Here is a holy city in a country and culture that is more affluent and confident than ever before, so why shouldn’t it follow that Mecca should be recast in its image? After all, this period of (over)development will be just another episode in the life of the city and what is occurring in the present time will in due course become history and archaeology in the future. I’m just sad that as a non-Muslim I will never have the chance to see the city at first hand.

By coincidence, a friend posted the following picture on Facebook not long after I read the article, and it constitutes a serene “before” counterpoint to the Mecca described by Wainwright.

The Kaaba and Masjid al-Haram, at some point in the twentieth century

The Kaaba and Masjid al-Haram, at some point in the twentieth century

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About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Islam, News, Place, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

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