View of the grand mosque of Mecca, built to enclose the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam. Here we see part of the rectangular courtyard with the arcaded outer wall with colonnades and minarets springing up into the sky in the background.
The artist has formed the scene, The unusual perspective of this view is noteworthy and is in contrast to the more common bird’s eye perspective of the Holy Places produced in this century. Accurate early views on Mecca are normally limited to Ottoman depictions in oil and engraved views. Very few exist that make any attempt to illustrate anything other than the Kaaba itself.
When he visited Mecca in 1853, Richard Burton wrote that a number of Indian artists there supported themselves by ‘drawing pictures of the holy shrines in pen and ink’ (Richard Burton, Personal Narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah, London, 1893, p.341 quoted in Stephen Vernoit, Occidentalism, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, London, 1997, p.33). This sketch may represent the type of work done by these artists.
The appearance of the minarets provide us with parameters for the dating of the work – from the early 17th to the mid 20th century. During the heavy flash floods in 1621 and 1629 the walls of the mosque suffered extensive damage. In 1629 the mosque was renovated with a new stone arcade added, as seen here. Three more of the minarets were also built (bringing to total to seven) and the marble flooring was retiled. This was the unaltered state of the mosque for nearly three centuries after.
History of the Site
The Kaaba, meaning ‘cube’ in Arabic is considered by Muslims to be the house of God. It is a square building elegantly draped in a silk and cotton veil and is clearly depicted here in the central space of the temple.
All Muslims aspire to undertake the hajj, or the annual pilgrimage, to the Kaaba once in their life if they are able. Prayer five times a day and the hajj are two of the five pillars of Islam, the most fundamental principles of the faith.
Upon arriving in Mecca, pilgrims gather in the courtyard of the Masjid al-Haram around the Kaaba. They then circumambulate (tawaf in Arabic) or walk around the Kaaba, during which they hope to kiss and touch the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad), embedded in the eastern corner of the Kaaba.