Mecca Builds Up, at the Cost of Its Historic Heritage

A unique blend of religious beliefs, state policies and capitalist interests are reshaping Mecca for the worse, critics argue, at the expense of its most prized cultural assets.
October 27, 2012, 5am PDT | Erica Gutiérrez
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In Mecca, the spiritual capital of the Islamic world, a decade of unbridled demolition of historic sites, including the house of the prophet's wife, Khadijah, has been matched only by the construction of new buildings of gargantuan proportions. Abraj al-Bait, the second tallest building in the world, now stands in the place of a late 18th century citadel. This $15 billion project, "which rises like Big Ben on steroids," is just the first of many projects fueled by petrodollars now under way in Mecca, reports Oliver Wainwright, and emblematic of the destructive building craze that Mecca has seen in the last 10 years.

Saudi Arabian officials have no qualms about the continued demolition of historic sites, as they push forward with the building spree, asserts Wainwright. "No one has the right to interfere in what comes under the state's authority," said a Saudi Islamic affairs minister in 2002 when rebuffing international outcry over the destruction of the 18th century citadel, adding "[t]his development is in the interest of all Muslims all over the world."

Saudi Arabia's extreme version of eminent domain and irreverence for historic preservation efforts is rooted in "state-endorsed wahhabism, the hardline interpretation of Islam that perceives historical sites as encouraging sinful idolatry. So anything that relates to the prophet could be in the bulldozer's sights," adds Wainwright.

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Published on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 in The Guardian
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