By Courtney Trenwith
King Abdullah approves the opening of annex buildings in the first completed phase of the $20bn upgrade project
The first extension to the Grand Mosque in Makkah has been completed and will open to allow space for an extra 625,000 pilgrims, local media has reported.
The extension includes annex buildings that are part of the kingdom’s massive $20bn expansion and restoration of Islam’s holiest site.
A spokesman at the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques said King Abdullah’s approval to open the new areas would help reduce congestion among worshippers inside and outside the mosque.
Another 40,000 pilgrims each hour also would be able to be accommodated with the opening of the expanded “mataf” (circumambulation area around the House of God) on the ground floor and first floor.
About 2 million worshippers, including foreigners, are expected to visit the Grand Mosque for taraweeh prayers – those performed at night during Ramadan, which started on June 29.
The Grand Mosque upgrade project is expected to create room for 1.5m pilgrims at one time.
Islamic tourism is one of the largest economic sectors of the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, accounting for about 3 percent of gross domestic product.