JEDDAH, 9 January — Authorities have started demolishing the Ajyad fortress built during the Ottoman era on the Bulbul Mountain overlooking the Grand Mosque in Makkah to make way for a multibillion riyal commercial project.
A part of the fort has already been demolished and the surrounding area has been leveled. "The work started about a week ago. Bulldozers are still on the site," said a source.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd last month gave the green light to a SR6 billion construction project on the site.
The project will also see the renovation of a historic castle at a cost exceeding SR2 billion ($533 million).
Plans to demolish the 23,000-square meter castle drew an outcry from Makkah residents and others calling for the preservation of the historic site. The authorities then decided to protect the castle and introduce changes in the plan for the construction of the commercial complex.
Huseyin Dirioz, spokesman of the Turkish foreign ministry, said the Saudi authorities had assured his country that the fort would be conserved in the new project.
The project, due to be completed in 2005, includes the construction of 11 high-rise residential towers consisting of 942 apartments, and a twin-tower five-star hotel with 1,200 rooms.
It also involves the reconstruction of the 230-year-old Ajyad fortress that was used for decades to defend the holy city.
The revenue generated from the project, which includes a commercial center and covers 23,000 square meters will be used for the upkeep of the Grand Mosque.
The fortress was made an endowment to the Grand Mosque named after the late King Abdul Aziz.
According to the new project blueprint, the towers will be built in areas surrounding the castle after its reconstruction, municipality officials said.
The decision to preserve the castle has brought a sigh of relief to Makkah residents who were worried about the fate of the historic fort. "It means a lot to us. We were used to seeing it standing there for a long time. It reminds us of our history," said one resident.
Minister of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance Saleh Al-Sheikh who chairs the Higher Endowment Council, said earlier that the project is part of a broad government plan to serve the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah.
Saudi Arabia spent SR70 billion ($18.7 billion) on the expansion of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.
The minister said the new project is a revival of the true concept of endowment which has played a significant role in the economic and social progress of the Islamic society throughout history.
He stressed the need for more endowment projects to serve the development plans of the Ummah and secure a stable source of income to maintain them.