Millions of Muslims would be setting their watches to a new time with the world’s largest clock now functional atop a soaring skyscraper in Islam’s Holiest City of Makkah or Mecca.
The clock began ticking on August 12, 2010.
Saudi Arabia hopes that the four faces of the new clock, which looms over Mecca’s Grand Mosque from what is expected to be the world’s second tallest building, will establish Mecca as an alternate time standard to the Greenwich Median Time (GMT).
The clock, which is in a three-month trial period, boasts four glimmering 46 metre-across faces of high-tech composite tiles, some laced with gold, sitting more than 400 metres over the Holy Haram compound.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, the tower’s height will reach 601 metres.
Premiere Composite, which is responsible for cladding the top section, including a shimmering spire topped by a golden crescent moon, puts the planned height at 590 metres, making it the world’s second tallest building. It is ahead of Taiwan’s 509 metre Taipei 101, but well behind the Burj Khalifa, the 828-metre skyscraper inaugurated in Dubai in January.
About 250 highly qualified Muslim workers completed the welding work on the clock’s frame, the Agency said.
More than six times larger in diameter than London’s famed Big Ben, the clock faces, with the Arabic words “In the Name of Allah” in huge lettering underneath, will be lit with two million LED lights.
More than 21,000 white and green coloured lights fitted at the top of the clock flash to as far as 30 kms to signal Islam’s mandatory five-times daily prayers. On special Muslim occasions, 16 bands of vertical lights will shoot 10 kms up into the sky.
Makkah resident Hani Al Wajeeh said everyone was interested to see the Clock, despite lack of sufficient information about it and its mechanism.
“We in Mecca hope to be the world’s central time zone, and not just have a clock to look at, to show off,” he said.
Abraj Al Bait, who developed the massive seven-tower complex, had kept the details of the clock a secret, but it is visibly in place now, adorned with the green crossed sword and palm symbol of the Saudi State.
Royal Makkah Clock Tower Hotel Manager Mohammed Al Arkubi said the installation of the Clock, along with its faces made by the German-owned Dubai Company, Premiere Composite Technologies, has been “a huge operation.”
The Clock reflects a goal by some Muslims to replace the 126-year-old Universal Time standard, originally called GMT, with Makkah mean time.
At a conference in Doha in 2008, Muslim clerics and scholars presented “scientific” arguments that Makkah time is the true Global Meridian.
They said that Makkah is the centre of the world and that the GMT standard was imposed by the West in 1884.
‘Big’ does not begin to describe the Abraj Al Bait complex just across the street from the south gate of the Grand Mosque, the Muslim world’s most sacred site.
Built by a government-controlled fund, the complex sits seven huge towers atop a massive podium. Six are between 42 and 48 stories, and in the middle is the Clock Tower, appearing nearly twice as tall as the others.
The entire complex, with 3000 hotel rooms and apartments, a five-story shopping centre and gigantic prayer and conference halls, will give it 1.5 million sq m of floor space, according to architects and construction industry reports.
The complex will sport three top-class hotels, the Fairmont, Raffles and Swiss Hotel.
It will also have hundreds of luxury apartments, most of them designed to have a direct view of the Grand Mosque.
The project is part of the Saudi Government’s plan to develop Makkah to receive 10 million Hajj pilgrims every year, up from three million this year.
That is necessary to accommodate a rapidly growing global population of Muslims, who have a duty to make a pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in their lifetime, if possible. Architect Dar Al Handasah said that at the peak of the Hajj season, the complex would accommodate 65,000 people.
The clock will be the focus. Elevators will take visitors up to a huge viewing balcony just underneath the faces and to a four-story astronomical observatory and Islamic Museum.
1. The Clock Tower reaches 601 metres
2. A Close-Up of the Clock
Pictures Courtesy: The Saudi Press Agency