The world’s largest hotel, Abraj Kudai, will open in Mecca in 2017 amid the controversial physical transformation of the holy city.
Costing £2.3 billion to build, the hotel will have 45 storeys, four helipads and one of the largest domes in the world. There will be 10,000 bedrooms, 70 restaurants and five floors for the sole use of the Saudi royal family.
Modelled on a “traditional desert fortress,” the building comprises 12 towers and will house a bus station, shopping mall, food courts and a conference centre.
Located in the Manafia district, just over a mile south of Masjid al Haraam, the complex is funded by the Saudi Ministry of Finance and designed by the Dar Al-Handasah group, a global construction conglomerate.
There has been a construction boom in Mecca over the last few decades which is justified by the authorities as necessary to accommodate as many pilgrims as possible who want to perform umrah and hajj.
Currently, the city receives between 2-3 million pilgrims for the hajj, but during the rest of the year more than 20 million people visit the city, bringing in annual revenue of around £6bn.
Masjid al Haraam itself is undergoing a £40bn expansion to double the capacity of its prayer halls – from 3 million worshippers currently to nearly 7 million by 2040.
But opinion is divided on the transformation that Mecca is undergoing with some saying that any changes should be made according to “global Islamic consensus” rather than on the whims of the Saudis.
“The city is turning into Mecca-hattan,” Irfan Al-Alawi, director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told the Guardian. “Everything has been swept away to make way for the incessant march of luxury hotels, which are destroying the sanctity of the place and pricing normal pilgrims out.”
The house of Khadijah (ra) has been bulldozed to make way for public lavatories and the house of Abu Bakr (ra) is now the site of a Hilton hotel. Moments from these sites now stand a “Paris Hilton store” and a Starbucks.
“These are the last days of Mecca,” said Alawi. “The pilgrimage is supposed to be a spartan, simple rite of passage, but it has turned into an experience closer to Las Vegas, which most pilgrims simply can’t afford.”