Saudi Gazette report
MAKKAH – The mataf area where worshippers perform the tawaf ritual (circumambulation of the Holy Ka’aba) will accommodate over 150,000 people per hour once it is expanded, according to Dr. Muhammad Al-Khuzaim, deputy president of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques’ Affairs.
Dr. Khuzaim said the old Haram area will be left unchanged, although slight changes will be made to keep it at the same level of the mataf. He added that it will also be connected with the ground floor and the courtyards.
Special lanes for wheelchairs used by the physically-disabled will be built while corridors will be developed to be in line with the mataf. More space will be created inside these corridors to facilitate the movement of worshippers.
Al-Khuzaim added: “The implementation process will take three years. The subsequent project will be the installation of an air-conditioning system for the entire Grand Mosque.”
The mataf project aims to provide pilgrims and visitors with necessary services to help them perform their rituals and obligations in ease and comfort.
Work on the project started Thursday with the installation of huge cranes at the northeastern courtyard of the Grand Mosque. The contractor of the project has sought the evacuation of several offices close to the mataf and the command center of the Haram security near Al-Safa Gate.
Authorities have made it clear that the expansion work will not affect the upcoming Umrah season.
The expansion is being carried out on the basis of a plan prepared by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Haj and Umrah Research. The plan focuses on making maximum use of available space while maintaining the architectural features of the Grand Mosque.
According to the plan, the mataf will be separated from prayer areas and will be linked to different levels of the mosque, with entrances to and exits from the mataf and direct access from the mataf to the masaa, the walkway between the mounts of Safah and Marwah.
The mataf on the second and third floors will have cable cars to carry aged and disabled pilgrims and there will be direct access to these floors from outside. The top floor of the mataf will have an automated walkway revolving around the Kaaba.
The current mataf is a circle with a diameter of 95 meters with a capacity for 28,000 people per hour, though at peak seasons it rises to 40,000 people per hour.
The first Saudi expansion of the mataf was undertaken 60 years ago.
The new project will also take steps to make the structure tremor proof.