Monster Machines: How The World’s Biggest Clock Tried To Change The Centre Of Time

Monster Machines: How The World’s Biggest Clock Tried To Change The Centre Of Time

For the multitudes of cultural differences that exist throughout human civilisation, we do share a single, universal goal: to build stuff bigger and better than the schmucks next door. Every single one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was created as a chest-thumping, neighbour-shaming testament to its builder’s awesomeness. That proud tradition continues even today with Saudi Arabia’s massive Mecca-clock, a timepiece so enormous it almost ended Greenwich Mean Time.

The clock sits atop the Abraj Al-Bait (Mecca Royal Hotel) Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia — steps away from the world’s biggest mosque and Islam’s most sacred site — and is surrounded by the five-star Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, which caters to wealthy pilgrims travelling through the holy land during the Hajj. Saudi Arabia’s largest construction firm, the Saudi Binladin Group, built the hotel complex for an estimated $US15 billion. The Fairmont group handles the hotel’s daily operations.

At 600m, the Makkah clock tower is the tallest building in Saudi Arabia, and second in height only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. That total height does include a 70m tall spire used to help track the moon during Islam’s Holy Months. Even without it, it’s still the worlds tallest clock tower and a technological marvel.

Designed by the Swiss engineering firm Straintec, each of the clock’s four faces measures 130sqm (making them the world’s largest). They are comprised of 98 million glass mosaic pieces and are outfitted with two million LED lights in addition to a 17m long hour hand and 22m long minute hand. Another 21,000 white and green lights run along the top of the clock and flash during the day’s five calls to prayer. These prayer lights are visible up to 30km away.

In the run up to the hotel’s opening in 2012, many speculated that the clock would be set to local Mecca Time. The clock’s proprietors in fact hoped that the structure would be so awe-inspiring that people around the world would forsake Greenwich Mean Time, the 125-year-old chronological “centre” of the globe, in favour of Mecca Mean Time. Plus, according to popular Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the clock’s location is “in perfect alignment with the magnetic north” a thin slice of space where magnetism purportedly doesn’t exist. “That’s why if someone travels to Mecca or lives there, he lives longer, is healthier and is less affected by the earth’s gravity,” he said. “You get charged with energy.”

However, a bit of cursory Googling reveals that magnetic north actually sits on a longiture that passes through the United States, the clock was set to Arabia Standard Time. [PopSciWikipediaTelegraphSkyscraper CenterFairmont Hotels]

Picture: King Eliot, Fadi El Benni/Al Jazeera English