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Saturday December 4, 2010

Going mega in Mecca

The world’s biggest concrete building and tallest hotel, the imposing Makkah Clock Royal Tower, rises 577m into the air and overlooks Masjid Al-Haram and the holy Kaaba.

Pilgrims to the recent Haj must have marvelled at the stupendous sight of the newly completed and partially opened Makkah Clock Royal Tower, which literally towers over the holy Kaaba and totally dominates the landscape.

Already the Makkah Clock Royal Tower is regarded as a new icon of Islam due to its location, spectacular size and Islamic elements. At 577m, it is the world’s second tallest building, playing bridesmaid to Dubai’s 828m tall Burj Khalifa, but it does lay claim to the title of the world’s tallest concrete building, besides also housing the world’s tallest hotel.

That hotel — The Makkah Clock Royal Tower, a Fairmont Hotel — replaced the 333m, US$180mil (RM568mil) Rose Rayhaan of Dubai as the world’s loftiest. And to think the Rose Rayhaan just opened in January this year!

The Makkah Clock Royal Tower is the world’s second tallest building.

At its highest point, which is the spire of the building’s crescent moon, the Makkah Clock Royal Tower reaches 601m but its official height is recorded as 577m because all skyscrapers are measured to the level of human habitation. With Mecca being a city of low-rise buildings, the tower stands out with its mind-boggling dimensions.

With 1.5 million sq m of space, it has the largest floor area of any structure on earth. When fully completed next year, it will have four floors for shopping and a 1,000-bay carpark. The residential towers are served by two helipads so that owners can literally fly home. The highest condominiums will be just below the clocks. At full capacity, Makkah Clock Royal Tower with its 3,000 rooms and suites can accommodate 100,000 people.

Its prayer hall alone can fit 10,000 worshippers.

The six adjoining towers, called Zam Zam, Hajar, Makam, Qibla, Mawar and Safa, range in height from 240m to 260m, while the hotel block scrapes the sky at 601m. The tower’s most prominent feature is, undoubtedly, its four-face clock which is the world’s largest, dwarfing London’s famous Big Ben. At a diameter of 43m, it is five times bigger than Big Ben and easily elbows aside former title holder, the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as the biggest four-face clock anywhere.

Luxurious and grand.

In fact, it is also the biggest clock, four face or otherwise, wresting the title from Istanbul’s Cevahir Mall Clock, which measures 36m in diameter.

The clock, said to cost US$750mil, can be seen from 18km away. It announces daily prayers to the Muslim world through amplifiers that can reach 7km in distance. The 21,000 green and white lights on the dials will flash green, the colour of Islam, five times a day, to remind Meccans of their prayer obligations. There are no chimes a’ la Big Ben.

The clock tower also houses a lunar observatory centre for sighting the moon and the Islamic Museum, which showcases works of art and culture from the Islamic world.

With the completion of this clock, Muslim scholars are now insisting that the Islamic world follow Makkah Time instead of Greenwich Mean Time since Mecca is the true centre of the world. Arabia Time is three hours ahead of GMT. Scientists say Mecca is a “zero magnetism zone”; the Egyptian National Research Centre says there is no magnetic force in Mecca, which is apparently why those who stay there are healthier and live longer.

There are 3,000 rooms and suites in the hotel.

Although most refer to it as the Makkah Clock Royal Tower, the new US$3bil mini-metropolis is actually called Abraj Al Bait Complex. The Fairmont hotel is the focal point of the development and part of the King Abdul Aziz Endowment Project whose mandate is to upgrade the precincts of the Two Holy Mosques. The King of Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two mosques.

Mohammad Arkobi, vice president and managing director of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International — Makkah, said, “With its 858 rooms and suites, Makkah Clock Royal Tower is now able to provide the finest accommodation and hospitality in the Holy City. This is a momentous opportunity to provide a new amenity to Muslim pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. We are honoured to offer exceptional services to Holy Land pilgrims.”

Guests at Makkah Clock Royal Tower will enjoy superb services and facilities as well as international cuisine at its nine restaurants, including the innovative Al-Dira, which offers local flavours from the various districts and provinces of the kingdom. Business can be conducted smoothly, thanks to translation services, a 24-hour business centre, high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi access.

Guests may choose to have their rooms face either the Kaaba, the Masjid Al-Haram or the holy city of Mecca.

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