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Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in Islam and millions of Muslims flock to its mosques every year for worship and devotion. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj, at least once in lifetime, and it is greatly encouraged to make another one, called Umrah. Mecca's importance is tied to the life and message of Prophet Muhammad, because it was here that the Prophet was born, and it was also here that God sent him the first revelation of the Quran through the archangel Gabriel. Since the Prophet's time Mecca has been at the centre of the Muslim world, for it is facing towards it that all Muslims pray every day. In recent years, however, the city has suffered a contradictory policy (imposed by the Saudi government) of destroying historical sites, such as the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad, for fear that people would worship him instead of God and, most importantly, to make room for hotels and shopping malls. Such was the fate of the house of Abu Bakr, loyal companion of the Prophet, replaced by the Hilton Hotel. Mecca is a city of contradictions but it still retains enormous historical significance, even with the threat of bulldozers ready to raze old monuments to the ground for the sake of money and grandeur.
The major landmarks of Mecca include several of the holiest places in the world, like the Kaaba, which contains the Black Stone, and the Cave of Hira, where Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation. To these revered places other, newer but not less impressive landmarks have been added, most notably the enormous Abraj Al-Bait complex with the Makkah Clock Royal Tower imposingly rising above it.
Dining in Mecca is a diverse and stimulating experience with a fusion of culinary traditions from all over the Muslim world and beyond. The multicultural identity of the city is reflected in the variety and diversity of foods and dishes available at the various restaurants the city has to offer. From Malaysian and Pakistani food to Chinese and even Western cuisine, it is possible to taste a lot of different dishes in Mecca, all rigorously halal, in line with prescriptions of the Quran.
Mecca offers several opportunities for a relaxing and enjoyable coffee break. The choice of cafes and eateries ranges from small coffee shops to the big chain cafes and lounges inside the various shopping malls. Couple that with some good pastry shops and you have the right amount of places to choose from to satisfy your need for sweets and good coffee.
Saudi law forbids the sale and consumption of all sorts of intoxicants, including alcohol. This means that there are no pubs, nightclubs nor bars of any kind in Mecca. Evenings in the holy city are spent either in one of the many hotel restaurants and lounges or in one of the big shopping malls, where visitors can indulge themselves and get some respite from the outside heat.
The streets of Mecca are full of small shops and bazaars that sell all sorts of items, from food and clothes to prayer mats and copies of the Quran. These stalls can be very interesting from a cultural perspective and also cheap if you are good at bargaining. If the loud and crowded street bazaars are not your thing, however, Mecca has a lot of air-conditioned malls where you can find all the goods you're looking for, as well as restaurants and cafes to rest and relax between the shopping sessions.
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