A giant clock on a skyscraper in Islam’s holiest city Mecca began ticking on Wednesday at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, amid hopes by Saudi Arabia it will become the Muslim world’s official timekeeper.
The Mecca Clock, which Riyadh says is the world’s largest, has four faces measuring 43 metres in diameter.
It sits 400 metres up what will be the world’s second tallest skyscraper and largest hotel, overlooking the city’s Holy Grand Mosque, which Muslims around the world turn to five times a day for prayer.
Saudi state news agency SPA said: “The Holy Mecca Clock started with the order of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud … one minute after 12 am this morning, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.”
Over 90 million pieces of coloured glass mosaic embellish the sides of the clock, which has four faces each bearing a large inscription of the name “Allah”. It is visible from all corners of the city, the state news agency said.
The clock tower is the landmark feature of the seven tower King Abdulaziz Endowment hotel complex, being built by the private Saudi Binladen Group, which will have the largest floor area of any building in the world when it is complete. Local media have said the clock tower project cost $3 billion.
The clock is positioned on a 601 metre tower, which will become the second tallest inhabited building in the world when it is completed in three months’ time.
Hashim Adnan, a resident of nearby Jeddah, who frequently visits Mecca, said: “Because it is based in front of the holy mosque the whole Islamic world will refer to Mecca time instead of Greenwich. The Mecca clock will become a symbol to all Muslims.”
The project is part of efforts to modernise the old city and make it more capable of catering to pilgrims. Around 2 million Muslims visit the city each year for the annual Haj pilgrimage, a once in a lifetime requirement for able bodied Muslims, and 3.5 million pilgrims visit Mecca at other times of the year.
While many in Saudi Arabia are celebrating the clock tower’s launch, some Mecca visitors are critical of how it will affect the ambiance of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthplace. The complex is built on the land once occupied by an Ottoman fortress.
Lina Edris, a frequent visitor to Mecca, said: “I think they are trying to do a lot of luxurious development around the grand mosque which is taking away from the spiritual atmosphere of the place, making it more modern.”
She added: “The clock tower is higher than the minarets of the Grand Mosque, which will take attention away from the mosque even though it is obvious the mosque is more important.”