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Mecca, Arabic Makkah, ancient Bakkah, city, western Saudi Arabia, located in the Ṣirāt Mountains, inland from the Red Sea coast. It is the holiest of Muslim cities. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca, and it is toward this religious centre that Muslims turn five times daily in prayer (see qiblah). All devout and able Muslims attempt a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Because it is sacred, only Muslims are allowed to enter the city.
In the 20th and 21st centuries the city underwent vast improvements. The area around the religious shrines was cleared, the mosque enlarged, housing and sanitation improved, and transportation facilities enhanced. As a result, Mecca can accommodate the continually increasing number of pilgrims, or hajjis. Area 10 square miles (26 square km). Pop. (2010) 1,534,731.
Mecca’s houses are more compacted in the old city than in the modern residential areas. Traditional buildings of two or three stories are built of local rock. The villas in the modern areas are constructed of concrete. Slum conditions can still be found in various parts of the city; the slum inhabitants are mainly poor pilgrims who, unable to finance their return home, remained in Mecca after arriving either for the hajj or for a lesser pilgrimage known as the ʿumrah.
The population density in Mecca is high. Most of the people are concentrated in the old city, while densities in the modern residential areas are the lowest in the city. During the month of pilgrimage the city is swollen with one to two million worshippers from other parts of Saudi Arabia and from other Muslim countries. Entrance into Mecca is permitted only to followers of Islam. Mecca is, however, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, containing people from various countries throughout the globe. People of the same national origin tend to live together in certain parts of the city.