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City - Makkah

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Makkah Makkah (Mecca), the capital of Makkah Province, is fifty miles from the Red Sea port of Jeddah. It is nestled between the Sirat Mountains of central Saudi Arabia, and is 910 feet above sea level. The historical center of the Islamic world and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Makkah houses the world’s largest mosque and many ancient cultural landmarks. Yet, it has a population of 1.7 million (2008), is more ethnically diverse and culturally eclectic than most Saudi cities, and has one of the tallest buildings in the world. Makkah’s economy, which is largely based on Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, is service-oriented. Football is Makkah’s most popular sport; the city’s largest football stadium seats 33,500. Makkah’s cuisine ranges from Lebanese, Syrian, and Turkish restaurants to American fast food. There are hundreds of cable, satellite, and other television providers, and international newspapers are available.

Masjid al-Haram, known as the Grand Mosque, is the largest mosque in the world; ringed by seven towering minarets and sixty-four gates, it is a monumental building with 160,000 yards of floor space. The “Noble Sanctuary” surrounds two historical landmarks: the Holy Ka’aba, an ancient cube-shaped stone building, draped in black, that houses the legendary Black Stone; and the ZamZam Well, whose water is, according to tradition, divinely blessed. The recent expansion of Makkah has produced modern landmarks, as well—among these, the huge towers of Abraj Al-Bait, situated across from the Grand Mosque, and standing 1,890 feet high.

Makkah’s only airport is the small Makkah East Airport; the city is best accessed by the King Abdulaziz International Airport and the Jeddah Seaport, both located in Jeddah. There is no public transportation; taxis and personal vehicles are the only way to get around the city. There is much to shop for in Makkah: richly textured carpets, artifacts of carved wood, exquisite veils, and gold. The best place to buy clothes is the Bin Dawood shopping complex. As is usual in Saudi Arabia, women must wear the abaya, a long black overgarment, and men cannot wear shorts. Makkakh’s climate, unlike that of other Saudi Arabian cities, is warm in the winter; its summer is very hot.

Makkah has only one university, but a large number of public and private schools--532 for males and 681 for females—in which English is spoken as a second language. There are also many international schools, some of which are coed, where English is the primary language. Muslims only are allowed to enter into the city of Makkah, so opportunities for Western teachers are available only to those of the Muslim faith.

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