After Muhammad died, Mecca became the focal point for Muslims from all over the world as they gathered annually to perform the hajj pilgrimage. Today, income from pilgrims powers the local economy.

The city is surrounded by mountains, with the hejaz and Haram Mosque in the center. Its entry is through several gaps in the surrounding mountains, including Mount Hira on the northeast, where Muhammad meditated and had his first revelations of the Quran.

The Kaaba

The Kaaba is a cube-shaped structure that houses the Black Stone and is considered one of the holiest sites in Islam. It is a center of pilgrimage, prayer and devotion, and represents the unification of Muslims around the world. Muslims face the Kaba during daily prayers and, when buried, their bodies lie with their heads towards it.

The Black Stone, which is affixed to the Kaaba’s eastern corner, is believed to have come with Adam and Eve when they were expelled from Heaven. It was originally white in color but over the centuries, it became dark from being touched and kissed by pilgrims.

The interior walls are clad with tiled marble and half of the roof is covered with green cloth. Opposite the north wall, but not connected to it is the Hatim (also romanized as hateem), a semi-circular space that enjoys special consideration. The space is surrounded by three pillars and gold hanging lamps.

The Black Stone

The Black Stone is a dark piece of unhewn rock embedded in the corner of the Kaaba. It is a focal point of the Islamic pilgrimage and believed to have descended from heaven. Touching and kissing the stone is an act of worship that Muslims believe absolves sins.

According to Muslim tradition, it was originally white but became black through absorption of the sins of men. Various legends surround the stone, including the belief that it wept silent and unseen tears, only affecting its exterior, or that it cried on behalf of Adam during his expulsion from Paradise.

The Black Stone is believed to have been one of the stones from Paradise that was brought to earth by Noah’s Flood and lost. It was found by Abraham and given to his son Ishmael, the father of Muhammad, who then ordered that it be placed in the corner of the Kaaba. The Kaaba was built in the shape of a house, a symbol of God’s home.

The Hajar al-Aswad

The Hajar al-Aswad, also known as the Black Stone, is a prominent feature of the Kaaba. It is believed that Muslims who kiss or touch the stone will have their faith confirmed on the Day of Judgement. In addition, it is also a symbol of atoning for sins.

The stone is set in the eastern corner of the Kaaba and is the focal point of Muslim piety. It is considered holy by millions of pilgrims. The tawaf, the seven rounds of circumambulation around the Kaaba, begins and ends by facing the sacred stone.

According to Islamic tradition, Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ishmael were constructing the Holy Kaaba when they noticed a gap or empty space in one of its walls. The Hajar al-Aswad was then brought from heaven by the angel Jibreel and placed in the Kaaba. During tawaf, it is customary for pilgrims to kiss or caress the stone. However, when the area is overcrowded, it is permissible to simply recite Takbeer while facing it.

The Grand Mosque

The Grand Mosque (Arabic: al-Masjid al-Haram) is the focal point of devotion for Muslims worldwide, whose daily prayers are oriented toward it. Complimentary one-hour tours give visitors a sense of the mosque’s beauty and history.

Its imposing marbled halls feature intricate carvings and marble mosaic artwork, and the main prayer hall boasts the world’s largest carpet, hand-knotted by 1,300 Iranian artisans. A dazzling chandelier, adorned with Swarovski crystals, fills the halls with shafts of primary-colored light.

Mecca was not always sacred to Muslims, but the prophet Muhammad converted this valley into a holy site around the Kaaba and other shrines—such as the Black Stone and the Well of Zamzam—when he visited in 622 C.E. Afterward, the mosque was renovated and expanded. Today, it is a massive architectural feat that blends Islamic, Mamluk, Ottoman, Fatimid and Moorish styles. Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the Grand Mosque was to showcase the Muslim world’s cultural diversity and modern values of design and architecture.