MECCA (Muhammad ‘Abdullah, 1845)


This untitled work of art belongs to the Islamic Art collection of Nasser D. Khali and was part of the exhibition “Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam” which was on view at the British Museum two years ago. It is executed in ink and watercolor, dates about 1845 and represents the earliest known accurate panoramic view of Mecca that combines a plan of the city with a bird’s eye view. The author is Muhammad ‘Abdullah, who was a Delhi cartographer commissioned by the Sharif of Mecca to depict monuments of his kingdom.

The sacred city of Mecca is the capital of Makkah Province in Saudi Arabia (Western Asia), and is located in a valley. The city follows the windings of the valley that has an irregular shape, which also contributes to the irregularity of the houses situated in the decline of the mountain side. It is 80 km from the Red Sea. Although the planning town is irregular it should be noted that a large number of buildings are clustered and distributed around a central point, which is the Grand Mosque. As we can see, the majority houses are made of stone with flat roofs. Nowadays, the distribution is different due to the current expansion works of the Mosque and buildings are higher and constructed with more resistant materials in the inner zone. In addition, the territory has expanded and we can find some suburban areas around the city.

In the past and due to the lack of space, the markets were located along the main streets. At the present time, we can find large shopping centers in the downtown and major complex owned by the government: such as Abraj Al-Bait Towers which is the fourth highest structure in the world. Mecca currently has two million inhabitants, while in the 19th century, time the picture belongs, the number did not exceed one hundred thousand.

The most remarkable fact about this city is religion. Mecca is the birthplace of the Islamic religion and where its prophet Muhammad was born. All the places mentioned in the image are closely related to religion and Muslim beliefs. First of all, in the center of the city, we can see Masjid al- Haram, which is the world’s largest mosque and surrounds one of the most sacred monuments of Islam, the Kaaba. According to the Quran the Kaaba was built by the prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael and, during daily prayers, Muslims, from wherever they are, must pray toward the Kaaba. During the Hajj, the annual and compulsory pilgrimage that Muslims have to do at least once in life if they have enough resources, Muslims have to walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter clockwise direction (tawaf ritual). Also, next to this monument is placed the holy well of Zamzam. A few hundred meters west of the Grand Mosque, the house where the Prophet Muhammad was born can be seen. At both sides of the image there are placed the two major mountains: Jab al- Nour and the Hira cave on the left, and Mount Arafat on the right. The first one is where the Prophet received his first divine revelation from Allah, and the other, is where Muhammad gave his last sermon to the Muslims who accompanied him in the Hajj. It is a mandatory stop for all pilgrims and here they have to pray for mercy for an afternoon, at least.

Finally, is an outstanding aspect that about fifteen million people (tourists and pilgrims) visit Mecca every year.

Lourdes Méndez Sánchez