King Fahd bin Abdulaziz lays the foundation

stone for the expansion of the Holy Mosque

 in Makkah in 1985, as Crown Prince Abdullah

(second from left) and Prince Sultan (right)

look on. The project increased the size

 of the Holy Mosque (below) to accommodate

1.5 million worshippers at a time.




ne of the first acts of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz upon becoming King on June 13, 1982, was to order a detailed study for the expansion of the Holy Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, the two holiest sites to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.

Ever since his father founded the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, bringing stability and security to the region and safeguarding the pilgrims who perform the Hajj, the number of Muslims visiting Makkah and Madinah every year had risen steadily. In response, King Abdulaziz and his successors undertook projects to expand the facilities at the two holy sites to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims.

Anticipating even greater growth in the number of Muslims performing the pilgrimage, King Fahd launched a massive project for expanding the Hajj facilities in 1985. The project involved different programs that were undertaken concurrently. The first provided for the expansion of the transportation infrastructure to accommodate the two million pilgrims who perform the Hajj every year. This included the construction of the mammoth Hajj Terminal at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah — through which arrive about 90 percent of the pilgrims from overseas arrive — as well as port facilities to handle the pilgrims coming by sea, and a network of superhighways connecting Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah.


Before the most recent expansion project, the Holy Mosque (left) could handle only 48,000 people at a time; while, surrounded by city walls at the turn of the 20th century, 

the Prophet's Mosque (right) was hemmed in by buildings, with no room for expansion.

Transportation facilities were also established at the pilgrimage sites in and around Makkah, where modern roads, overpasses, pedestrian tunnels and walkways through the mountains surrounding the city were built. These facilities allowed the safe and rapid movement of pilgrims between the Holy Mosque and the pilgrimage sites in Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat.

At the same time, expansion work was being undertaken at the Holy Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. At the time of the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the Holy Mosque covered some 288,900 square feet and could accommodate 48,000 worshippers. The first two Saudi expansion projects undertaken in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s had increased the size of the mosque complex five-fold.

The Prophet's Mosque in Madinah can handle as many as one million worshippers.

The new expansion project launched in 1985 more than doubled the size of the complex, allowing as many as one and a half million worshippers to pray at the Holy Mosque at one time. This was done by increasing the actual size of the complex, and establishing prayer sites on the roof of the facility. To protect worshippers from the elements, the largest air conditioning plant in the world was established at the mosque and special tiles that dissipate the heat were used to cover the prayer grounds in the open areas.

The government also built a vast city of air conditioned, fire-proof tents outside Makkah to accommodate the pilgrims. The city, used only during the Hajj season, is equipped with hundreds of kitchens, bathing facilities, clinics, hospitals and other amenities designed to make the pilgrimage as comfortable and safe as possible.

Meanwhile, a similar expansion project was being implemented at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, one that would increase the size of the complex ten-fold to more than 1.7 million square feet. The project involved expanding the mosque on three sides and surrounding it with a vast outer courtyard paved with marble.

King Fahd inspects work on the air-conditioning system at the Holy Mosque.

Within the new structure there are now 27 inner courtyards that feature concrete domes that can be opened or closed depending on the weather. Two larger inner courtyards each have six mechanical , retractable umbrellas that also can be closed or opened. Other amenities designed to keep worshippers comfortable include a unique air- conditioning system that is located 4.3 miles from the mosque and pumps 17,000 gallons of chilled water per minute through a tunnel to the mosque.

Elements of Arab and Islamic architecture adorn the interior of 

both the Holy Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque (above).

New gates, escalators and walkways have been built to ease the movement of the more than one million worshippers who now can pray at the mosque at any given time.

Part of the vast city of air-conditioned tents that has been built to house

 the two million pilgrims who gather in Makkah for Hajj.

Upon completion of the expansion projects in Makkah and Madinah in 1992, King Fahd told the Council of Ministers that the entire project cost 70 billion Saudi riyals (18.66 billion U.S. dollars), a sum well spent to ensure the comfort and safety of the pilgrims who gather from around the Kingdom and the world every year to perform the pilgrimage that is the spiritual high point of any Muslim’s life.

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