Mecca (Makkah), Saudi Arabia
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Mecca (Makkah) in western Saudi Arabia is Islam's holiest city. It is the birthplace of Mohammad and the place he returned to after his exile to Medina. Five times a day more than one billion Muslims around the world turn towards it to pray to Allah.
Enclosed by the sandy Valley of Abraham, Mecca (Makkah) is surrounded by low rocky hill ranges in a region of western Saudi Arabia known as Hijaz, which also comprises Medina and Jedda.
Mecca (Makkah) stands almost 300 metres above sea level and approximately 45 miles (70 kilometres) east of the Red Sea. Mecca (Makkah) has a resident population of 650,000 which more than triples during the annual Hajj. Non-Muslims have been forbidden entry to the city since 630CE when Mohammad made Mecca (Makkah) the centre of the Muslim faith.
Forced into exile in Medina in 622, Mohammad established a model Islamic community in Medina but returned to take Mecca (Makkah) in 629, purifying the Ka'aba of its idols before spreading the word of Islam.
The Ka'aba is enclosed by the Great Mosque, the focus of Muslim worship. The healing waters of the Zam Zam well flow nearby, miraculously appearing over 4,000 years ago to save Abraham's son Ishmael from dehydration in the Meccan desert.
In a city where the inhabitants centre their lives around the spiritual thrust of the city, Mecca (Makkah) is a place of pilgrimage devoted to God where the five prayers pace every day.
In Mecca (Makkah), time runs according to the divine.
Pronounced ma-KAH, it is one of the most recognisable Islamic words in the world.