Night skies lit by giant Makkah Clock

16 massive light beams are set upwards and can be seen from 17 km

Muslims going on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia will have the chance to see the world’s largest clock tower that lightens up the sky at night by emitting 16 massive light beams to a distance of nearly 10 km above Makkah.

Saudi Arabia, which is spending massive sums on the development and expansion of the holy city has just completed the installation of such massive light beams that look like giant meteors hanging over the Grand Mosque.

On Saturday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia approved a project to expand areas surrounding the Grand Mosque, the latest in a series of mammoth development ventures in the western city. The project involves demolition of many houses which will cost the government over SR40 billion ($10.8 billion) in compensation for Saudis whose property will be affected.

The project envisages a multi-level extension together with stairways and tunnels to facilitate access by worshippers. The Grand Mosque underwent significant expansion in the mid-1980s, but the number of Muslim pilgrims has steadily grown, requiring another expansion.

The 601-metre clock tower, nearly six times the size of London’s famous Big Ben, is topped by the world’s tallest minaret which is adorned by gold crescent and can be heard during Azan (prayers call) from as far as 17 kilometres.

Time on the 40-metre-wide clock can be seen from as far as 20 kilometres and its minaret is lit by 21,000 green and white lamps that illuminate the area surrounding the Grand Mosque to a distance of 30 kilometres.

“Visitors to the Grand Mosque are surprised by this Islamic and historic edifice, which illuminates the sky at night with 16 huge light bands,” the Saudi Arabic language daily Okaz said, quoting a government official in Makkah.

“The light beams are intended to allow deaf persons or Muslims in far areas to know prayer timings in Makkah and nearby cities.”

Inaugurating the clock tower in mid 2010, Saudi officials said they hoped it would establish Makkah as an alternate time standard to the Greenwich median.

The clock is around 400 metres above the ground while the highest point in the minaret just above the clock is 601 metres, making it the world's second tallest building -- ahead of Taiwan's 509 metre Taipei 101, but well behind the Burj Khalifa, the 828 metre skyscraper in Dubai.

The clock faces, with the Arabic words "In the Name of Allah" in huge lettering underneath. The tower, which took two years to construct, is equipped with an elevator to take visitors to the surrounding balcony below the four clocks.

Officials said last year the Makkah clock would be linked to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). UTC, also referred to as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), Universal Time (UT), or "Zulu" is an international time scale used in astronomical and aviation publications, weather products, and other documents.

Formerly and still widely called GMT, UTC nominally reflects the mean solar time along the Earth's prime meridian. UTC is expressed using a 24-hour clock but can be converted into a 12-hour clock--AM and PM.

“The clock tower is just one of the new world wonders…its proximity to the Grand Mosque makes the two one of the most wonderful and magnificent monuments in the world,” said Dr Fawaz Al Dahhas, history professor at Umm al Qura university in Makkah. “Besides, the tower has allowed many mosques in Makkah to know the correct prayer direction towards the Grand Mosque…in other words, it has connected all Muslims in he city in one prayer timing and direction.”

Sandwiched between the clock and the minaret, the word Allah (God) is engraved in giant letters exceeding 23 metres each, allowing it to be seen from as far as 15 kilometres. The gold crescent on top of the clock is around 23-metre wide, making it the largest man-made crescent in the world.

“The clock’s total weight is around 36,000 tonnes and its base is around 12,000 tonnes….more than 250 artists had worked on that structure to turn it into one of the best artistic Moslem monument in the world,” Okaz said.

“The clock is run by massive engines weighing nearly 21 tonnes each, making them the largest clock engines ever made by man….around two million LED lamps encompass the clocks while 20 large automatic lightning control rods have been installed on the tower besides 800 smaller rods on surrounding buildings.”

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