Mecca,[a] also spelled Makkah, is a city in the Hejazi region of Saudi Arabia. The city is located 70 km (43 mi) inland from Jeddah, in a narrow valley 277 m (909 ft) above sea level, 340 kilometres (210 mi) south of Medina, its population in 2012 was 2 million, although visitors more than triple this number every year during the Ḥajj (“Pilgrimage“), held in the twelfth Muslim lunar month of Dhūl-Ḥijjah.
It is the birthplace of Muhammad, a cave 3 km (2 mi) from Mecca was the site of Muhammad’s first revelation of the Quran, and a pilgrimage to it, known as the Hajj, is obligatory for all able Muslims. Mecca is home to the Kaaba, one of Islam’s holiest sites and the direction of Muslim prayer, and thus Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in Islam.
Mecca was long ruled by Muhammad’s descendants, the sharifs, acting either as independent rulers or as vassals to larger polities. It was conquered by Ibn Saud in 1925; since then Mecca has seen a tremendous expansion in size and infrastructure, such as the Abraj Al Bait, also known as the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel, the world’s fourth tallest building and the building with the third largest amount of floor area, and lost some historical structures and archaeological sites, such as the Ajyad Fortress. Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the city.