Ali Bin Ghursan
MAKKAH — Construction work on the expansion of the mataf (the area where pilgrims circle around the Holy Ka’aba as part of the tawaf ritual) in the Grand Mosque started Thursday.
The engineers overseeing the project gave the go-ahead to set up the two largest tower cranes ever built in the 21st century in the eastern and western parts of the mosque.
The cranes will be used for the construction work.
The contractor requested the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques to evacuate a number of offices in the Grand Mosque including the preachers’ offices and those housing security forces.
The expansion ordered by King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, aims to end overcrowding in the mataf.
Muhammad Abdullah Idris, Deputy President of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Haj Research Institute in Makkah, suggested the expansion in a study he conducted.
The expansion has been designed in a way to preserve the Islamic identity and character of the Grand Mosque and the mataf in particular.
The project will separate the mataf from the prayer areas and link it to various floors, significantly easing the flow of worshippers as they enter and leave the tawaf area.
The study also suggests the tawaf and the masa’a (where pilgrims perform the ritual run between Safa and Marwah) areas be provided with cable car services linking the Grand Mosque with three areas of the holy city to reduce congestion during the peak Haj and Umrah seasons.
The study recommends cable cars mainly for elderly pilgrims and those with special needs.
The expansion project will result in the mataf’s capacity being increased to accommodate 130,000 tawaf performers per hour across all floors instead of the current capacity of 52,000.
The project includes the first floor being allocated for physically handicapped worshippers and will be connected to elevators and escalators.
This floor will also be connected to the masa’a.