MECCA

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MECCA, or MEKKA ; a city of Arabia, capital of Hedsjas, about 50 miles from Jidda, its port, on the Red sea, 180 south of Medina; lat. 21° 18' N.; Ion. 40° 15' E.; population, formerly, 100,000; according to Burckhard, who visited it in the character of a devout Mussulman, now about 30,000, with accommodations for as many pilgrims. It was known to the Greeks by the name of Macoraba, and is called, by the Mussulmans, OmmAlcora, or Mother of Cities, because it was the birthplace of Mohammed. It is situated in a dry, barren and rocky country, in a narrow valley, enclosed by mountains. The water is brackish, and the pastures distant, and every thing unfavorable for the support of a large population. It is two miles long, and one broad; the streets regular and handsome, being sanded, level and convenient; the houses of stone, of three or four stories, built in the Persian or Indian, rather than the Turkish style, having neat fronts, ornamented externally with paintings and mouldings. Many quarters are now abandoned to ruins, and of the houses that remain, two thirds are unoccupied. Mecca is a city of the greatest celebrity among the Mohammedans, and contains the three holiest things in the Mohammedan world,the well Zemzem, the Caaba (or house of God), and the Black Stone. Zemzem is believed, by the followers of Mohammed, to be the identical spring which gushed forth in the wilderness for the relief of Hagar and Ishmael; and marvellous efficacy is ascribed to its waters, in giving health to the sick, imparting strength of memory, and purifying from the effects of sin. The Caaba, or Kaaba, is of great antiquity. (See Kaaba.) The Black Stone, the principal wonder of the place, is said to have been brought by the angel Gabriel, and to have been originally of a dazzling whiteness. The grand ceremony through which the pilgrims pass is that of going seven times round the Kaaba, kissing each time the sacred stone. It is generally supposed to be a meteoric stone. Forty eunuchs are at present maintained there, by the revenues of the temple and the gifts of the pious. Mecca is entirely supported by pilgrims from every part of the Mohammedan world ; but the number is now much less than formerly, owing partly to the decay of religious zeal, and the decline of power and wealth of the Mohammedan states; and partly, also, to Mecca's being subject to the incursions of the Wahabees. The commerce, now greatly diminished, consists chiefly in the productions and manufactures of India. Notwithstanding the sacred character of the city, it has now little reputation for learning, and Burckhard found no book shops in the place. No Christian is allowed to enter Mecca, and its territory is regarded as sacred to a certain distance round, which is indicated by marks set up. The male Meckaways are all tattooed at the age of forty days, to prove their origin in the holy city. Mecca was taken by the Waha*bees, in 1804, but soon after recovered by the sherif Galib. It was again captured in 1807, and again delivered by Mohammed Ali, pacha of Egypt, in 1818. (For the ceremony which takes place on the arrival of the pilgrims, see Arafat)