JEDDAH, 26 December — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd has given the go-head for the construction of a multibillion-riyal residential and commercial complex close to the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The project will also see the renovation of a historic castle at a cost exceeding SR2 billion ($533 million).
Minister of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance Sheikh Saleh ibn Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh said the king gave his approval for the SR6 billion ($1.6 billion) project known as the King Abdul Aziz Endowment for the Holy Haram.
The complex, to be built after demolishing the 350-year-old Ajyad Fort and the entire Bulbul mountain on which it stands, will have high-rise towers featuring residential units, hotels, shops, prayer halls and parking lots to serve pilgrims and visitors to the holy city.
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.
"King Fahd has given his approval for the King Abdul Aziz Endowment for the Holy Haram and for the preparation of the project site by removing the hill and the castle. The king instructed that the castle should be preserved in full by rebuilding it," the minister said in a statement.
The project belongs to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments.
The contractors, the Saudi Binladen Group, were informed by the Makkah Municipality of the royal decision.
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.
Al-Sheikh who chairs the Higher Endowment Council said the project is part of a broad government plan to serve the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah.
"This is yet another of the many gestures that paved the way for the largest ever expansion and renovation of the two holy mosques," the minister said.
Saudi Arabia spent SR70 billion ($18.7 billion) on the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque to increase each of their capacity to accommodate one million worshipers at one time.
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.