Goodbye Mecca

Friday, 3 October 2014

True or False?

• The house of the Prophet Mohammed’s first wife Khadijah in Mecca has been demolished and replaced by a block of toilets
• The Victoria’s Secret lingerie shop in Riyadh was burnt to the ground by angry matawwa, the Saudi Arabian religious police
• The 1780 Ajyad Fortress in Mecca, built to protect the holy city from bandits and invaders, has been destroyed and replaced by an extraordinarily ugly Fairmont Hotel
• Saudi clerics are calling for the destruction of the house where the Prophet lived in Mecca.

Lingerie shoppers can relax, Victoria’s Secret is doing fine. The other three statements are correct!

Seems unbelievable? Well it’s all part of why Saudi Arabia is the weirdest country I have ever visited, except for North Korea. There are lots of places in the world still on my wish list, but I can’t add Mecca to that file, as a non-believer I’ll never be allowed in. In any case the Saudis are intent on demolishing much of what made the ancient city so interesting. For more on the destruction of Mecca (also known as Makkah) check this New York Times story.

I’m fortunate to have visited Saudi Arabia when I was researching Bad Lands and I found it absolutely fascinating and, as a male, remarkably easy to travel around. In fact the kingdom gets lots of ‘tourists,’ but they’re almost exclusively religious tourists on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. I saw very few real tourists during my travels.

To license this image contact: Lonely Planet Images email: phone: 61 3 8379 8181▲ I explored the country from Maidan Salah, the Saudi sister city to Petra in Jordan, in the north.

16.06 - Saudi Arabia - Najran fort - 540▲ To Najran in the south with its wonderful mud architecture, this is the Najran Fort. Najran is only a stone’s throw from Yemen, famous for its mud skyscrapers.

And that ugly Fairmont Hotel? It’s the Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel, the third highest building in the world, topped only by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Shanghai Tower in Shanghai. It may only come third in the height championships, but if there is an award for kitsch design it’s a clear winner. Just take London’s Big Ben and scale it up from 96 metres to 601 metres high. For about US$200 – so long as you’re the right religion – you can stay in the Really Really Big Big Ben.