Muslims often describe the moment they step inside Mecca's Grand Mosque as an overwhelmingly emotional experience. For those living outside Saudi Arabia, a visit to Mecca – generally spelt 'Makkah' by Muslims and in Saudi Arabia – is a lifelong dream as they prepare for the hajj pilgrimage, an obligation that all Muslims must perform if they are financially and physical able to do so.
The Great Mosque of Mecca is the largest mosque in the world and surrounds Islam's holiest place, the Kaaba, in the city of Makkah.
The focal point for every Muslim performing hajj, the Grand Mosque encompasses 356,800 sq metres.
It can accommodate as many as 820,000 worshippers within its confines and more than one million outside the perimeter, where worshippers can pray.
The Kaaba is in the central courtyard.
Cave of Thawr | This small mountain is where the Prophet hid for three days from the Quraysh tribe. According to Islamic custom, an acacia tree grew rapidly in front of the cave while the men were hiding here. In the tree, a dove built a nest and laid eggs and a spider spun a web over the cave’s entrance to protect the men from detection, all of which marked the cave as a sign of faith and hope. The climb can be difficult, so a slow pace is encouraged.
Jabal Al Nour | Jabal Al Nour is the location of the tiny Hira cave and one of the most important pilgrimage sites. According to Islamic tradition, it was here that the archangel Gabriel gave the Prophet his first revelation. Although the mountain is actually a hill, reaching the cave entails a difficult hike.
Jabal Rahmah | Known as the Mountain of Mercy, this granite hill is an important part of performing hajj as pilgrims leave Mina for Arafat on the ninth day to recite the Quran and pray. The Prophet gave his last sermon at the site shortly before his death.
Museum of the Prophet | This privately owned museum is dedicated to study of the Quran, the Prophet’s life and his traditions. The museum also features displays of utensils, furniture and weaponry used by the Prophet.
Makkah Museum | Makkah Museum has a collection ranging from images of Saudi Arabia’s important archaeological discoveries to exhibits on pre-Islamic history.
Al Haramain Museum | Be persistent when calling for an appointment to visit, since the phones may go unanswered. But it’s worth the wait, with seven halls featuring the history of the Grand Mosque. A highlight is the Holy Kaaba Hall, which displays the kiswah, the cloth that covers the black cube, and other artefacts once part of the Kaaba.
Al Malaa Cemetery | Many of the most important members of the Prophet’s family are buried here, including the Prophet’s first wife, Umm ul Mu’mineen Khadija.
Birthplace of Mohammed | The birthplace of the Prophet still survives, although it faces threats of demolition. Adjacent to the mosque, the two-story structure is now a library.
Masjid Al Bi’ah | Masjid Al Bi'ah marks the spot where tribal leaders pledged their allegiance to Mohammed in AD 621. Simple in design, but carrying Hejazi architectural touches, it features arched entryways opening to a large courtyard.
Al Wahba Crater | Situated in the desert, this massive crater measures nearly 1 mile across. The crater bottom fills with water in the wet season and turns into a salt-pan in the summer as the sun evaporates the moisture. This area once saw large amounts of volcanic activity.
Abraj Al Beit Towers | They've been criticized for their modern architectural design overlooking the historic and holy Grand Mosque, but these 601m-tall, postmodern towers are perhaps Mecca’s most visited non-religious landmark.
Makkah Mall | This shopping centre has an extensive range of retail outlets, including designer and luxury brands.