Mecca (also spelled as Makkah) is regarded as the holiest city in Islam. Apart from the fact that Mecca was the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, it is also the city where Islam’s holiest place of worship, the Great Mosque (more commonly known as al-Masjid al-Haram) is located. In addition, it is in the direction of Mecca that Muslims face when they perform their daily prayers. Furthermore, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Hajj, or Pilgrimage, involves an extended visit to the city.
Where is Mecca?
Mecca is located in the western part of the Arabian Peninsula, in what is today the Makkah region of Saudi Arabia. The sacred city is historically part of the Hejaz, which stretches along the Arabian Peninsula’s Red Sea coast from Jordan in the north to the Asir region in the south. Mecca is situated 73 km (45 mi.) inland from Jeddah, the commercial hub of Saudi Arabia.
The city sits in the Wadi Ibrahim (Valley of Abraham), and is surrounded by the Sirat Mountains. There are four passes through the mountains that grant access to the holy city.
Mecca is most closely associated with the Islamic faith. Nevertheless, the city was already a significant religious center and key spot for trading even before the founding of Islam. This is due to the fact that Mecca was an oasis on the trade route that linked the Mediterranean world with Southern Arabia, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.
Due to Mecca’s strategic geographical location, it was developed during the Roman and Byzantine periods. It is possible that Mecca was also known to the peoples of the Hellenistic period. In Ptolemy’s Geography, a city in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula called Macoraba is mentioned. Macoraba has been traditionally identified with Mecca, though some modern scholars have cast doubts on this identification.
The Earliest History of Mecca
Still, ancient writings referring to Mecca seems to be scarce. Instead, the main source of information for this part of the city’s history comes from later Islamic and Arabic sources. Islamic tradition, for example, traces the history of Mecca all the way back to the beginning of time .
It is believed that when Adam and Eve were thrown out of Paradise, they were separated. Adam landed on the island of Sri Lanka, while Eve found herself in the area that is now Jeddah. After wandering the earth on their own for a period of time, Adam and Eve were reunited by God on Mount Arafat, to the east of Mecca. Arabic sources also state that Adam was buried in Mecca. Eve, on the other hand, was buried in nearby Jeddah.