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951
MECCA


fair.[1] In the middle ages this trade was much more important than it is now. Ibn Jubair (ed. Wright, p. 118 seq.) in the 12th century describes the mart of Mecca in the eight days following the feast as full of gems, unguents, precious drugs, and all rare merchandise from India, Irāk, Khorāsān, and every part of the Moslem world.

The hills east and west of Mecca, which are partly built over and rise several hundred feet above the valley, so enclose the city that the ancient walls only barred the valley at three points, where three gates led into the town. In the time of Ibn Jubair the gates still stood though the walls were ruined, but now the gates have only left their names to quarters of the town. At the northern or upper end was the Bāb el Mā‛lā, or gate of the upper quarter, whence the road continues up the valley towards Minā and Arafa as well as towards Zeima and the Nejd. Beyond the gate, in a place called the Hajūn, is the chief cemetery, commonly called el Mā‛lā, and said to be the resting-place of many of the companions of Mahomet. Here a cross-road, running over the hill to join the main Medina road from the western gate, turns off to the west by the pass of Kadā, the point from which the troops of the Prophet stormed the city (a.h. 8).[2] Here too the body of Ibn Zubair was hung on a cross by Ḥajjāj. The lower or southern gate, at the Masfala quarter, opened on the Yemen road, where the rain-water from Mecca flows off into an open valley. Beyond, there are mountains on both sides; on that to the east, commanding the town, is the great castle, a fortress of considerable strength. The third or western gate, Bāb el-Omra (formerly also Bāb el-Zāhir, from a village of that name), lay almost opposite the great mosque, and opened on a road leading westwards round the southern spurs of the Red Mountain. This is the way to Wādi Fātima and Medīna, the Jidda road branching off from it to the left. Considerable suburbs now lie outside the quarter named after this gate; in the middle ages a pleasant country road led for some miles through partly cultivated land with good wells, as far as the boundary of the sacred territory and gathering place of the pilgrims at Tanīm, near the mosque of Ayesha. This is the spot on the Medīna road now called the Omra, from a ceremonial connected with it which will be mentioned below.

The length of the sinuous main axis of the city from the farthest suburbs on the Medina road to the suburbs in the extreme north, now frequented by Bedouins, is, according to Burckhardt, 3500 paces.[3] About the middle of this line the longitudinal thoroughfares are pushed aside by the vast courtyard and colonnades composing the great mosque, which, with its spacious arcades surrounding the Ka‛ba and other holy places, and its seven minarets, forms the only prominent architectural feature of the city. The mosque is enclosed by houses with windows opening on the arcades and commanding a view of the Ka‛ba. Immediately beyond these, on the side facing Jebel Abu Kobais, a broad street runs south-east and north-west across the valley. This is the Mas‛ā (sacred course) between the eminences of Safā and Merwa, and has been from very early times one of the most lively bazaars and the centre of Meccan life. The other chief bazaars are also near the mosque in smaller streets. The general aspect of the town is picturesque; the streets are fairly spacious, though ill-kept and filthy; the houses are all of stone, many of them well-built and four or five storeys high, with terraced roofs and large projecting windows as in Jidda—a style of building which has not varied materially since the 10th century (Mukaddasī, p. 71), and gains in effect from the way in which the dwellings run up the sides and spurs of the mountains. Of public institutions there are baths, ribāṭs, or hospices, for poor pilgrims from India, Java, &c., a hospital and a public kitchen for the poor.

The mosque is at the same time the university hall, where between two pilgrim seasons lectures are delivered on Mahommedan law, doctrine and connected branches of science. A poorly provided public library is open to the use of students. The madrassehs or buildings around the mosque, originally intended as lodgings for students and professors, have long been let out to rich pilgrims. The minor places of visitation for pilgrims, such as the birthplaces of the prophet and his chief followers, are not notable.[4] Both these and the court of the great mosque lie beneath the general level of the city, the site having been gradually raised by accumulated rubbish. The town in fact has little air of antiquity; genuine Arab buildings do not last long, especially in a valley periodically ravaged by tremendous floods when the tropical rains burst on the surrounding hills. The history of Mecca is full of the record of these inundations, unsuccessfully combated by the great dam drawn across the valley by the caliph Omar (Kutbeddin, p. 76), and later works of Mahdī.[5]

The fixed population of Mecca in 1878 was estimated by Assistant-Surgeon ‛Abd el-Razzāq at 50,000 to 60,000; there is a large floating population—and that not merely at the proper season of pilgrimage, the pilgrims of one season often beginning to arrive before those of the former season have all dispersed. At the height of the season the town is much overcrowded, and the entire want of a drainage system is severely felt. Fortunately good water is tolerably plentiful; for, though the wells are mostly undrinkable, and even the famous Zamzam water only available for medicinal or religious purposes, the underground conduit from beyond Arafa, completed by Sultan Selim II. in 1571, supplies to the public fountains a sweet and light water, containing, according to ‛Abd el-Razzāq, a large amount of chlorides. The water is said to be free to townsmen, but is sold to the pilgrims at a rather high rate.[6]

Medieval writers celebrate the copious supplies, especially of fine fruits, brought to the city from Tāif and other fertile parts of Arabia. These fruits are still famous; rice and other foreign products are brought by sea to Jidda; mutton, milk and butter are plentifully supplied from the desert.[7] The industries all centre in the pilgrimage; the chief object of every Meccan—from the notables and sheikhs, who use their influence to gain custom for the Jidda speculators in the pilgrim traffic, down to the cicerones, pilgrim brokers, lodging-house keepers, and mendicants at the holy places—being to pillage the visitor in every possible way. The fanaticism of the Meccan is an affair of the purse; the mongrel population (for the town is by no means purely Arab) has exchanged the virtues of the Bedouin for the worst corruptions of Eastern town life, without casting off the ferocity of the desert, and it is hardly possible to find a worse certificate of character than the three parallel gashes on each cheek, called Tashrīṭ, which are the customary mark of birth in the holy city. The unspeakable vices of Mecca are a scandal to all Islām, and a constant source of wonder to pious pilgrims.[8] The slave trade has connexions with the pilgrimage which are not thoroughly clear; but under cover of the pilgrimage a great deal of importation and exportation of slaves goes on.

Since the fall of Ibn Zubair the political position of Mecca

  1. The older fairs were not entirely deserted till the troubles of the last days of the Omayyads (Azraqī, p. 131).
  2. This is the cross-road traversed by Burckhardt (i. 109), and described by him as cut through the rocks with much labour.
  3. Iṣṭakhrī gives the length of the city proper from north to south as 2 m., and the greatest breadth from the Jiyād quarter east of the great mosque across the valley and up the western slopes as two-thirds of the length.
  4. For details as to the ancient quarters of Mecca, where the several families or septs lived apart, see Azraqī, 455 pp. seq., and compare Ya‛qūbī, ed. Juynboll, p. 100. The minor sacred places are described at length by Azraqī and Ibn Jubair. They are either connected with genuine memories of the Prophet and his times, or have spurious legends to conceal the fact that they were originally holy stones, wells, or the like, of heathen sanctity.
  5. Balādhurī, in his chapter on the floods of Mecca (pp. 53 seq.), says that ‛Omar built two dams.
  6. The aqueduct is the successor of an older one associated with the names of Zobaida, wife of Harūn al-Rashīd, and other benefactors. But the old aqueduct was frequently out of repair, and seems to have played but a secondary part in the medieval water supply. Even the new aqueduct gave no adequate supply in Burckhardt’s time.
  7. In Ibn Jubair’s time large supplies were brought from the Yemen mountains.
  8. The corruption of manners in Mecca is no new thing. See the letter of the caliph Mahdi on the subject; Wüstenfeld, Chron. Mek., iv. 168.