Thursday 30 March, 19:30


Cosmpolis in the desert

In the western part of the Saudi-Arabian desert, the city of Mecca has been a hub of multiple networks, trade routes and pilgrimage for over a thousand years. Well before today's forms of globalisation, Mecca was already a point of attraction for people from all over the world, a cosmopolitan city with a high degree of cultural heterogeneity and a bridge that linked Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Islam decrees that one of the five obligations of every Muslim is that of making at least once the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the two cities where Mohammed founded the religion. Successive empires, pilgrimages and cultural fluxes have marked the history of Mecca, a city that now has a population of more than a million people coming from different parts of the Islamic world.


It is calculated that some three million Muslims visit Mecca every year during the days of the pilgrimage (hajj), which has become a huge tourist industry for the Saudi-Arabian authorities and a major propagation instrument for the Wahhabi version of Islam. With this background and with the need to accommodate an ever-increasing number of pilgrims, Mecca is undergoing a profound transformation that threatens the historic legacy of a city that traditionally embodied the diversity of Islam.

The pilgrimage to Mecca will be analysed in this debate with discussion of its religious rituals, its increasing commercialisation and its impact on the city's physiognomy. Besides its presentation of one of the holy pillars of Islam, the speakers also offer a portrait of the more hidden side of Mecca, the life of the city that is concealed behind the pilgrimage and that is characterised all year round by complex social dynamics and an architectural richness that are totally unknown to westerners.

Thursday, 30 March 2006 - 7.30 p.m.

«Mecca: Cosmopolis in the Desert»

Presentation: Fred Halliday, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics.

Abdellah Hammoudi
, Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. Author of Une saison à la Mecque (Seuil, 2005):
"Portrait of a Pilgrimage"

Salma Samar Damluji
, architect, editor of The Architecture of the Holy Mosque Makkah (Hazard Publishing Limited, 1998):
"The Holy City: Architecture and Urban Life in the Shadow of God"