(MENAFN - Arab News) Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, said yesterday the expansion project for mataf (circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba) would increase its capacity to hold 150,000 pilgrims per hour.
Speaking to reporters after inspecting the project, he said four weeks have been completed after starting work on the project. "Works have been intensified to complete the project on time as per schedule," he said.
He thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for giving his directives to implement the project as part of the government's efforts to improve facilities for Haj and Umrah pilgrims.
He said the eastern part of the first Saudi expansion near the masaa (running area between Safa and Marwa mountains) and northern part close to Fatah Gate would be removed for the expansion.
"We'll also remove the concrete construction on the eastern side, part of the historic colonnades that were built about seven years ago as part of mataf expansion in the second floor and terrace," said Al-Sudais, who is also imam and khateeb of the Grand Mosque.
He disclosed plans to keep the removed portions of the mosque in an exhibition of the two holy mosques, near the Kiswa Factory.
"The mataf expansion project will be completed in three phases in three years. The area for the handicapped will be separated from the pedestrians," he said. The project includes light, sound and air conditioning systems.
"There will be a network of bridges and pedestrian pathways to reduce the crowding in the mosque," he said. The work will also ensure maximum safety and cleanliness at the mataf and other parts of the mosque, he added.
The move, which has been welcomed by senior religious scholars, will considerably reduce the crowding, especially during Haj season.
A major feature of the expansion work includes linking the present mataf with the area outside the Grand Mosque. The area behind the Ottoman structure will be demolished and re-built with one basement, three floors and a roof, all without pillars and all for tawaf only.
King Abdullah last year launched the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in history, which will increase the mosque's capacity to more than 2.5 million worshippers and cost SR80 billion. The expansion's main gate would be named after King Abdullah and will have two minarets, bringing the mosque's total number of minarets to 11.
The new project, covering 400,000 sq. meters in the northwest and northeast of the mosque, is the project of the century, said Muhammad Al-Khozaim, vice president of the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques Affairs.