Mecca from the sky
Central to the Muslim pilgrimage is the Grand Mosque of Mecca which houses the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure elegantly draped in black silk with verses of the Quran woven into it with gold and silver threads.
Muslims believe that the prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael built the Kaaba as the house of God. The structure has been built and rebuilt several times with the last major renovation taking place in 1996 to strengthen its foundation. Wherever they are in the world, Muslims face the direction of the Kaaba when performing their prayers.
To accommodate the millions of pilgrims who normally attend the annual pilgrimage, the grounds of the Grand Mosque have expanded considerably over the past few decades. In 2019, Saudi Arabia announced that it had received more than 95 million pilgrims over the past 50 years, and that it planned to host 30 million pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah each year.
Google Earth satellite images captured from 2004 through to December 2020 show just how quickly the holy city has expanded.
For Muslims, the Hajj re-enacts the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage” in 632 AD which traces the footsteps of the prophets Abraham and Ishmael through the Arabian desert. It is a central pillar of the Islamic faith meant to cleanse followers of sin and bring them closer to God.
Hajj falls on the 8th of Dhul al-Hijjah, the twelfth and final month in the Islamic lunar calendar which shifts 10-12 days earlier each year. The pilgrimage spans five days and involves travelling to key locations around Mecca including Mina, Mount Arafat, Muzdalifah, the Jamarat and the Grand Mosque.
We take a look at the step-by-step process in the infographic below.
For hundreds of years pilgrims from all over the world would travel on camelback or by ship for weeks at a time to reach Mecca. With the convenience of modern air travel this journey can now be completed within hours.
Click through the 8-image gallery below to see some of the iconic moments in history starting in 1889.