), an inland city of Arabia Felix, placed by Ptolemy in lat. 73° 20′, long. 22°, universally admitted to be the ancient classical representative of the modern Mekka
which Mr. Forster holds to be an idiomatic abbreviation of Machoraba, identical with the Arabic “Mecharab,” “the warlike city,” or “the city of the Harb.” (Geog. of Arabia,
vol. i. pp. 265, 266.)
A very high antiquity is claimed for this city in the native traditions, but the absence of all authentic notices of it in the ancient geographers must be allowed to disprove its claim to notoriety on account of its sanctity at any very remote period.
The territory of Mekka
was, according to universal Arabian history or tradition, the central seat of the kingdom of Jorham and the Jorhamites, descendants of the Joktanite patriarch Sherah, the Jerah of the book of Genesis (10.26), who in the earliest times were the sovereigns of Mekka, the guardians of the Kaaba, and the superintendents of the idolatrous sacrifices in the valley of Mina,
from whence they derived their classical synonym MINAEI
It is quite uncertain when they were superseded by the Ishmaelite Arabs of the family of Kedar, whose descendants, according to immemorial Arabic tradition, settled in the Hedjaz; and one tribe of whom was named Koreish
), “quod circa Meccam, congregati degerent.
” (Canus ap. Golium, in voc.,
cited by Forster, Geog. of Arabia,
vol. i. p. 248, n.)
This tribe, however, from which Mohammed sprung, had been for centuries the guardians of the Kaaba, and lords of Mekka, prior to his appearance: for if the very plausible etymology and import of the classical name, as above given, be correct, and Beni-Harb
was, as Mr. Forster has elaborately proved, a synonym for the sons of Kedar, it will follow that they had succeeded in fixing their name to the capital some time before it appeared in Ptolemy's list, nor can any traces of a more ancient name be discovered, nor any notices of the ancient city, further than the bare mention of its name by the Alexandrian geographer.
sometimes also called Bekka, which words are synonymous, and signify a place of great concourse, is certainly one of the most ancient cities in the world.
It is by some thought to be the Mesa of Scripture (Gen.
10.30), a name not unknown to the Arabians, and supposed to be taken from one of Ishmael's sons” (Gen.
25.15). (Sale's Koran, Preliminary Discourse,
sect. i. p. 4.) Its situation is thus described by Burckhardt:--“The town is situated in a valley, narrow and sandy, the main direction of which is from north to south; but it inclines towards the north-west near the southern extremity of the town.
In breadth this valley varies from one hundred to seven hundred paces, the chief part of the city being placed where the valley is most broad.
The town itself covers a space of about 1500 paces in length; .... but the whole extent of ground comprehended under the denomination of Mekka” (i. e. including the suburbs) “amounts to 3500 paces.
The mountains enclosing this valley (which, before the town was built, the Arabs had named Wady Mekka or Bekka) are from 200 to 500 feet in height, completely barren and destitute of trees..... Most of the town is situated in the valley itself; but there are also parts built on the sides of the mountains, principally of the eastern chain, where the primitive habitations of the Koreysh and the ancient town appear to have been placed.” It is described as a handsome town; with streets broader, and stone houses more lofty, than in other Eastern cities: but since the decline of the pilgrimage “numerous buildings in the outskirts have fallen completely into ruin, and the town itself exhibits in every street houses rapidly decaying.” Its population has declined in proportion.
The results of Burckhardt's inquiries gave “between 25,000 and 30,000 stationary inhabitants for the population of the city and suburbs, besides from 3000 to 4000 Abyssinians and black slaves: its habitations are capable of containing three times this number.” This estimate, however, shows a considerable increase within the last three centuries; for “in the time of Sultan Selym I. (in A. H. 923, i. e. A.D. 1517) a [p. 2.240]
census was taken, and the number found to be 12,000 men, women, and children.” In earlier times the population was much more considerable; for “when Abou Dhaker sacked Mekka in A. H. 314 (A.D. 926) 30,000 of the inhabitants were killed by his ferocious soldiers.” Ali Bey's estimate in A.D. 1807 is much lower than Burckhardt's in A.D. 1814. Yet the former says “that the population of Mekka diminishes sensibly.
This city, which is known to have contained more than 100,000 souls, does not at present shelter more than from 16,000 to 18,000;” and conjectures that “it will be reduced, in the course of a century, to the tenth part of the size it now is.” The celebrated Kaaba demands a cursory notice.
It is situated in the midst of a great court, which forms a parallelogram of about 536 feet by 356, surrounded by a double piazza.
This sanctuary, called, like that of Jerusalem, El-Haram, is situated near the middle of the city, which is built in a narrow valley, having a considerable slope from north to south.
In order to form a level area for the great court of the temple, the ground has evidently been hollowed out, subsequently to the erection of the Kaaba, which is the only ancient edifice in the temple.
The building itself (called by the natives Beit-Ullah,
the House of God), probably the most ancient sacred building now existing, is a quadrilateral tower, the sides and angles of which are unequal. Its dimensions are 38 feet by 29, and its height 34 feet 4 inches; built of squarehewn but unpolished blocks of quartz, schorl, and mica, brought from the neighbouring mountains.
The black stone, the most sacred object of veneration, is built into the angle formed by the NE. and SE. sides, 42 inches above the pavement.
It is believed by the Moslems to have been presented to Abraham by the angel Gabriel, and is called “the heavenly stone.” Ali Bey says that “it is a fragment of volcanic basalt, sprinkled throughout its circumference with small, pointed, coloured crystals, and varied with red feldspath upon a dark black ground like coal.” The famous well of Zemzem, in the great mosk, is 56 feet deep to the surface of the water, fed by a copious spring; but its water, says Burckhardt, “however holy, is heavy to the taste, and impedes digestion.” Ali Bey, on the contrary, says that “it is wholesome, though warmer than the air even in that hot climate.
The town is further supplied with rain-water preserved in cisterns: but the best water in Mekka is brought by a conduit from the vicinity of Arafat, six or seven hours distant.” (Ali Bey, Travels,
vol. ii. pp. 74--114; Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia,
pp. 94, &c.)