By Andy Sambidge
King Abdullah will lay the foundation stone for project to create space for 1.2m worshippers
King Abdullah will lay the foundation stone for a new expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah on Friday, designed to create prayer space for an additional 1.2 million worshippers.
The new expansion will include modern garbage disposal systems and security monitoring systems while sunshades will also be established on the northern courtyards of the mosque, Saudi daily Arab News reported on Wednesday.
The new annex will be linked with the existing mosque and masaa with a series of bridges and will also be equipped with air conditioning systems and escalators, it added.
Muhammad Al-Khozaim, vice president of the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, told the paper: “Once completed, the new facility will be able to accommodate nearly 1.2 million worshippers."
Al-Khozaim also announced plans to expand the mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Holy Kaaba) and provide air-conditioning for all parts of the Grand Mosque.
He added that the newly expanded masaa (the running course between Safa and Marwa) could now accommodate 118,000 pilgrims per hour instead of 44,000.
The expansion plans come a few days after it was announced that construction of an urban mass rail transit system for the holy city of Makkah was slated to start in 2013, with operations beginning four years later.
Makkah faces significant congestion and transportation challenges as a focal point of the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage, which attracts millions of visitors to the city every year.
The city's own population is also growing rapidly and is estimated to double to three million by 2035.