Muslims often describe the moment they step inside Mecca's Al Masjid Al Haram (Grand Mosque) as an overwhelmingly emotional experience. For those living outside Saudi Arabia, a visit to Mecca – generally spelt 'Makkah' by Muslims and in Saudi Arabia – is a lifelong dream as they prepare for the hajj pilgrimage, an obligation that all Muslims must perform if they are financially and physical able to do so.
But Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, is not limited to satisfying the spiritual thirst of visitors. Born of the desert, this is a city with the heart of a village, conjuring images of historic Arabia. Sun-bleached homes nestle in rocky hillsides on the outskirts and visitors bargain with shopkeepers in the shade of the largest mosque in the world. It’s here that modernity, thanks to extensive building improvements, mixes with Arabia's Islamic past.