The hideous Mekkah Clocktower may have been the final straw – officials now state that any additions will be more in tune with traditional architecture
It seems that the powers that be in Mekkah (Mecca) are finally listening. After widespread complaints that Mekkah was beginning to resemble Las Vegas with its preference for gargantuan and gimmicky buildings, luxury hotels and tacky malls, it has announced that in the future any additions will be ‘of reasonable height’ and will be more in tune with the traditional architecture of the region. Hopefully that will rule out anything similar to the Mekkah Clocktower which is one of the tallest buildings in the world and stood out like a sore thumb with its decidedly European influences (London’s Big Ben?) in the middle of Saudi Arabian desert.
At the very heart of the Hajj pilgrimage which takes place in Mekkah every year is its egalitarian spirit. All the pilgrims must wear the same clothes, there should be no indicators of class and wealth and all the pilgrims must endure the same heat, the same rush and the same struggle.
However, Mekkah is not immune to the temptations of modern comforts and over the years, there has been a creeping sense of inequality as luxury and commercial enterprises boomed in the city. Some pilgrims can now stay in luxury hotels; they can eat at the finest restaurant and shop at designer malls. Nothing demonstrated this rising inequality like the 1,970ft tall ‘Mekkah Clocktower’ which boasts a massive shopping mall and an 800-room hotel.
Now, officials have said that any future development will be more in tune with the heritage of Mekkah. Mayor Osama Al-Bar told Reuters that future projects “will be far from the Grand Mosque by 300 meters … The buildings will have reasonable heights between 8 to 10 floors and will have the Makkah style.” When asked about the clocktower, he replied “The building regulations in the city take into consideration the width of the streets, central locations and do not allow the building of skyscrapers…what was built was that.” Clearly, this was a mistake that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
Speaking to Reuters, Sami Angawi, founder of Haj Research Center and an expert on Mekkah said that he felt that development had moved too fast in the holy city and he wanted decisions to be made more carefully and to be more in tune with the local heritage. “We want to evolve Makkah, not change it… I love Makkah and cannot see the beloved (sanctuary) of the Prophet being handled this way,” he added.
Over the next six years, Mekkah will continue to change. The Government wants to replace congested narrow roads, install footbridges for pedestrians and expand the Mekkah Metro. Whether these changes happen through a slower process of evolution which reflects Mekkah (like the officials now promise) or whether development continues at a break-neck pace is hard to guess. Only time will tell now.
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