Saudi Gazette | 12 Muharram 1436/06 November 2014

The first two phases of the King Abdullah Project for the expansion of the mataf (circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba) have been completed within the stipulated period of time, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques announced on Wednesday.

Sheikh Abdurahman Al-Sudais, head of the presidency, said that the expanded facility can accommodate 70 percent more pilgrims.

He said the first phase of the mataf expansion in the eastern direction with all its floors would be opened for worshippers once prayer mats and the shelves for keeping the Holy Qur’an are arranged and the Zamzam supply facility is organized.

Demolition of the remaining old structure of the Grand Mosque between the Safa hillock and the central area facing the King Fahd expansion structure, including the King Abdulaziz Gate with two minarets over it and three floors, started last week as part of the third and final phase of the expansion. With the completion of this phase, the total area of the project would be 81,567 square meters.

Al-Sudais said the third phase would consist of 22 escalators, 12 lifts for the disabled and elderly pilgrims, and Zamzam water drinking areas.

The new structure will have gates much wider than the existing ones to facilitate smooth flow of pilgrims and crowd management in a larger scale, especially during the peak Haj and Umrah seasons, in view of the fact that gates in the southern direction of the mosque witness huge rush.

The chief of the holy mosques presidency said there will be a number of new bridges that connect the courtyards with the mosque’s first floor.

The existing bridge that links the Ajyad Road with the first floor will be replaced after the mataf expansion.

There will be two alternative bridges at Al-Umrah Gate and Al-Fatah Gate instead of the gates that are being demolished in the mosque’s southern and western directions as part of the ongoing expansion work.

Al-Sudais said work is under way to reinforce the remaining structure of the mosque before beginning the third phase of the demolition work.

Workers have started removing lamps, chandeliers, decoration lights, fans, amplifiers, clocks, as well as the Abbasid-era pillars from the old structure prior to its demolition.

Barriers are being placed on the roof, first floor and the basement before beginning the demolition work.

The demolition work will be completed in accordance with the time-bound plan, Al-Sudais added.