Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hajj--Some Elements of a Pictorial History: 7th-19th Centuries; 1885 Photos

Early Quran, Gold Lettering

The following historical aspects of Hajj are compiled from a recent exposition at the Louvre of archeological finds from the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, and a recent exhibition of photographs of the 1885 hajj at The Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai (November 9-December 6, 2010). The Louvre Exhibit, Routes d'Arabie/Roads of Arabia, was featured in earlier posts in French and in English. The English text here is my own from information provided in the French text of the original exhibit online.

Along the Pilgrimage Routes

Early caravans of Muslim pilgrims followed the ancient caravan trade routes to the Hijaz. Some notable Muslims facilitated and enhanced specific routes to lead most directly to the trading, now holy city of Makkah, providing for stop overs along the way, and ensuring adequate water replenishment. Maritime trading routes also served this new purpose, with stops in the seaports of the Red Sea, adding to their growth and prosperity. Pilgrims came throughout the year, as well as during hajj, for umrah, and to visit the Prophet's tomb.

Then as now the pilgrimage facilitated meetings and exchanges among Muslims from all over the ummah, or Islamic world. Over the centuries many pilgrims stayed and contributed to the hybrid of cultures in the Hijaz. Todays routes of pilgrimage, follow land and sea routes, as well as the more direct flights.

Major land (Iraki, Syrian, Egyptian, and Yemeni) and sea (Abyssinian, Gulf, Indian, Indonesian) trade and pilgrimage routes


Al-Rabadha was one of the principal stops along the Iraki route to Makkah. Situated 200km east of Makkah, it is mentioned in the writings of numerous early historians and geographers. Al-Rabadha rose to prominence in the 7th century, and reached its height in the 9th. It declined and was abandoned in the 10th century after a change in routing due to security problems. Archeological digs begun in 1979 uncovered the remains of this once important stop over for hajj pilgrims.


Al-Mabiyat was a major stop for pilgrims along the Syrian route, and was also uncovered by recent archeological digs near the ancient site of Al-Ula. It was mentioned in ancient Arabic texts as the city of Qurh. Its greatest periods were during the 9th-10th centuries and again in the 12th, after which it too was abandoned.

Artifacts typical of these Hijazi sites are pictured below. Generally the artifacts unearthed here show the importation of ceramics, and artisanal objects by both merchants and pilgrims.

The Holy Sites

The Funeral Steles of Al-Ma'la Cemetery

Early grave markers, carved stone steles, at the Cemetery of Al-Ma'la, originally north of Makkah, hundreds of them, gave the names and some personal history of important early personages of Islam and local elites, along with religious quotations, and sometimes a poem or a message to passersby. The steles date from the 9th to 16th centuries, and have been found all along the crest of the corniche above Makkah. They are themselves works of Arabic and Islamic art, and collectively form a history of calligraphic art in the region.

The Al-Ma'la Cemetery was itself an important stop for early pilgrims.


As Islam advanced, Makkah and the Holy Sites increasingly became a centre of power, and wealth, where the cultures of the local tribes mixed with those of succeeding dynastic powers and those of the pilgrims from around the world. The Ummayid, Abbassid, and Fatimid dynasties, followed by the Mamluks and the Ottomans contributed prestigious embellishments of the Holy Sites. Pictures of some of the ornate and precious key hole plaques, door faces, incense burners, and carvings follow. Silks, worked metal lamps and chandeliers, as well as support for the pilgrims and the locals were other common gifts.

Gold plated Ottoman door of the Kaaba, since replaced

Keyhole of the Prophet's house

Incense burner

Inscription in the name of Solimon

The Holy Sites and the pilgrimage itself have long been the subject of the literary and representational arts. Early photographs show both the continuity and the change in the physical sites and rituals of the pilgrimage.

Arrival in Makkah

Pilgrims around the door of Kaaba

A recent exposition at The Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai and its online representation has provided the world with access to photographs by Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, taken in 1885 and published in book form in 1889. The online introduction and the photos follow.

Mecca: A dangerous Adventure – Snouck Hurgronje’s early photographs 1885
by Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje | Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar
The Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai has teamed up with the Dutch Leiden University and Hes & De Graaf Publishers in Houten, the Netherlands, to present a unique exhibition revisiting the historical photographs published by Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje in 1889 as Bilder aus Mekka, one of the most important collections of early photographs of the holy city of the Islam. The original plates held by the Leiden University have been expertly rephotographed and reprinted as a portfolio of valuable platinum prints.
We are very proud to present an exhibition of the 20 platinum prints during the month of the Haj. The exhibition will be opened on November 9 and runs until December 6.

The Great Mosque during pilgrims' prayers at the Kaaba

A view of Makkah

A view of the Kaaba

A view of Makkah

A view of Makkah

The printer's building in Makkah

A view of the tomb of Sittana Maimuna (a wife of the Prophet) during Hajj

A tent camp of Hajj pilgrims at the Tomb of Sittana Maimuna, 
one of the Prophet Mohamed's wives

The western part of the Mina Valley during Hajj

The eastern part of the Mina Valley during Hajj

A view of Muzdalifa, a stop over for pilgrims between Mina and Arafat

A tent camp of Hajj pilgrims at Mount Arafat

Another tent camp of Hajj pilgrims, east of Mount Arafat

A tent camp of Hajj pilgrims west of Mount Arafat

Another view of a camp east of Mount Arafat

A group portrait: Sharif Yahya, a slave responsible for camels, 
and 2 lower sharifs

A view of a tent camp at the Tomb of Sittana Maimuna, 
a wife of the Prophet Mohamed

Pilgrims visit the holy site of Sittana Maimuna's Tomb

A rika or bridal throne, for a wedding celebration in Makkah, 
during the time of Snouck's visit

The groom sitting on the bridal throne

*CNN has compiled an audio slideshow of the photos which accompanies an interesting article on Snouck, including his adventurous life, conversion to Islam, and allegations he was a spy. Adventurer's photos capture a bygone Mecca

Related Posts:
Saudi Arabia and Hajj
Eid Al-Adha
Hajj and Eid Al-Adha 2009—The Unforeseen: A Deluge of Rain and Flooding
Routes d'Arabie: Archéologie et histoire du royaume d'Arabie saoudite au Musée du Louvre du 14-07-2010 au 27-09-2010
Roads of Arabia - Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the Louvre from 07-14-2010 to 09-27-2010

Your thoughts, comments, impressions?

1 comment:

Susanne said...

I enjoyed seeing these old pictures and 'stuff' from archaeological digs. Thanks for sharing!


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