It is the fourth tallest building in the world, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur and the Shanghai Tower: the Abraj Al Bait Tower, at 601 metres, is the tallest skyscraper in Saudi Arabia, and is situated in Mecca. Unlike the other tallest buildings in the world, however, it is not an actual skyscraper standing by itself but part of a building complex made up of different towers, and hence a sort of vertical city, that is certainly extremely high. But that is not the only element that sets the Abraj Al Bait Tower apart from the other tallest skyscrapers in the world. Unlike the others, it is not a tower of glass and steel, but rather an aesthetically postmodern building with different elements typical of Arabic and Islamic architecture. For example, the spire on the central tower is capped with an Islamic crescent moon.
The Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower: the records
It should be emphasized that the Abraj Al Bait Tower does not feature in the list of record-beating buildings only because of its height. It is also the tallest clock tower in the world – so not surprisingly this central tower is also known as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower, referring to the name of the hotel that the building houses as well as the clock. And talking about the clock, it is the largest clock face in the world. Each of the 4 faces of the clock at the top of the central tower is 43 metres in diameter, and each is illuminated by 2 million LED lights. The hour hand of the clock is 18 metres long, while the minute hand is 23 metres. You can see the time on this gigantic clock from 25 kilometres away.
The complex is also said to be the second most costly building complex in the world, with a total construction cost of 15 billion US dollars; moreover, it is also the largest complex ever built, larger even than Dubai airport.
The unusual construction site of the Abraj Al Bait Tower
It has to be said that the construction of the Abraj Al Bait Tower in Mecca has not been without controversy. Indeed, the complex is situated only 300 metres from the largest mosque in the world, the Sacred Mosque of Mecca, in which the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest place, is situated. But it was not this that sparked the controversy – since the construction was in any case intended to provide hotels for pilgrims – but rather, it was that in order to build the towers it was necessary to demolish the Ajyad Fortress, an Ottoman citadel built in the 18th century. The decision to do so met with criticism from many quarters, particularly Turkey. It should be noted that the citadel was built in 1700 in order to defend the Kaaba from invaders.
The construction of the Abraj Al Bait Tower
The building work was managed by the Saudi Binladin Group, and started in 2002; it was completed in 2011 and the inauguration took place the following year, at a time when it was the second tallest building in the world. The height of the central tower was originally intended to be 734 metres, and if this initial plan had come to fruition, the Abraj Al Bait Tower would have been the second tallest tower in the world instead of the fourth tallest. But in 2009, it was announced that the final height of the skyscraper would be 640 metres, and in fact this was greater than the actual height that the building eventually reached. For the sake of precision, we should add that the spire on the roof of the building adds a further 71 metres, so the roof of the building is actually 530 metres high. The base of the spire is the largest prayer room in the world, while the crescent moon – made of carbon fibre – is covered with small elements in 24 carat gold.
The structure and use of the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower
As we have previously mentioned, we are talking about a building complex, not an individual building. In total, the construction covers an area of 1,500,000 metres, with hotels, museums, restaurants, private apartments, shops and a prayer area, as well as an observatory offering panoramic views over the Large Mosque and Mecca. There are 7 towers in total, standing on a common foundation. Let’s take a look at the various towers that make up the Abraj Al Bait complex.
Makkah Royal Clock Tower
We’ll start with the central skyscraper, the tallest one, featuring the enormous clock and the very high spire. The tower was designed by the SL Rasch studio: the architects stated that the idea of adding the clock came during the course of the building work, when construction was already well underway. In order not to make the top of the building excessively heavy, highly innovative composite materials were used for the construction of the clock faces, all prefabricated and pre-assembled on the ground.
This building is 279 metres high and has 58 floors; it is the site of the Mövenpick Hotel & Residences Hajar Tower Makkah, named after the mother of the prophet Ishmael.
This tower is also 279 metres high with 58 floors; inside, it accommodates the Pullman ZamZam Makkah Hotel, named after the Zamzam well, a holy well in Islam.
This tower is lower than the towers described earlier, at 232 metres with 61 floors. It is the site of the Swissôtel al Maqam Makkah Hotel and is named after a sacred rock which is said to have the footprint of the prophet Abraham.
This tower is a twin to the Maqam Ibrahim tower, and it also houses a hotel. The name derives from the direction that Muslims must face when praying: towards Mecca.
At 220 metres high, this tower has 46 floors and houses the Raffles Makkah Palace Hotel. It is named after one of the hills on the site where the Great Mosque stands.
This tower is identical to the previous one, and is named after the other hill on the site of the Great Mosque. It houses the Al Marwa Rayhaan by Rotana – Makkah Hotel.