Mecca — the ancient holy city that’s been the site of Islamic pilgrimages for millennia — is being turned into Disneyland. Helping complete its transformation? This 600m-tall hotel, which will tower over the city like a desert fortress on steroids, projecting a dazzling green laser show at night.
Four helipads cluster around the massive crown of what will become the world’s largest hotel. The monstrosity, which opens its doors in 2017, will boast 10,000 bedrooms and seventy restaurants, five floors devoted exclusively to the Saudi royal family, a bus station, a shopping mall, and a ballroom. It will be everything my Sim Tower-loving childhood self dreamed of.
Except it’s happening in real life, and defacing one of the world’s most historic cities in the process.
The mega-structure is to be located roughly 1.6km south of the Grand Mosque in the Manafia district. It’s being funded by the Saudi Minister of Finance and designed by the construction conglomerate Dar Al-Handasah. While Saudi Arabia’s rulers are clearly in full support of the project (after all, it is coming out of their royal bank accounts and if you missed it, contains five floors devoted entirely to them), folks interested in protecting the heritage of Saudi Arabia’s holy cities don’t have many kind words to say about it. As Irfan Al-Alawi, director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told The Guardian:
“The city is turning into Mecca-hattan. Everything has been swept away to make way for the incessant march of luxury hotels, which are destroying the sanctity of the place and pricing normal pilgrims out.
These are the last days of Mecca. The pilgrimage is supposed to be a spartan, simple rite of passage, but it has turned into an experience closer to Las Vegas, which most pilgrims simply can’t afford.”
According to The Guardian, the city of Mecca receives some two million pilgrims for the annual Hajj, but now, that holy trip is overshadowed by the visitation of roughly 20 million tourists, who bring the city over nine billion US dollars annually. If you’d like to see Mecca as a semblance of its former self, visit sooner rather than later — the Grand Mosque is already eclipsed by a gargantuan clock tower, the house of the prophet’s first wife was levelled to make way for public bathrooms, another historic building is now the site of a Hilton hotel, and downtown is filling up with Starbucks coffee shops.
On the other hand — gender-segregated Disneyland!
The world’s largest hotel is planned to open in Mecca in 2017. Image credit: Dar Al-Handasah