Mecca Through Time (Pictorial Timeline)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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A pictorial timeline of Mecca, also pronounced Makkah; a city in Hejaz region, which is regarded as the holiest city in Islam. The information on this page is purely speculative. The ancient or early name for the site of Mecca is Bakkah (بَكَّة), also transliterated Baca, Baka, Bakah, Bakka, Becca, Bekka, etc.). In the Islamic view, the beginnings of Mecca are attributed to the Biblical figures Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.

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The early history of Mecca is still largely disputed, as there are little unambiguous references to it in ancient literature prior to the rise of Islam. It is believed that prophet Ishmael son of prophet Ibrahim (biblical Abraham), actually settled and populated the area. Earlist account in Islamic history, recount as the prophet Ibrahim left his son prophet Ishmael and his mother Hajirah (Hegar) in the Arabian wilderness, it was here; where the mother and son ended up settling.

The first direct known reference to Mecca in external literature occurs in 741 CE, in the Byzantine-Arab Chronicle, though here the author places it in Mesopotamia rather than the Hejaz.

Timeline of Mecca

circa 1813-1638 BCE

Ibrahim Brings Hajirah and Ismail to Makkah
According to the Islamic tradition, prophet Ibrahim brings Hajirah and Ismail (identified with the biblical Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael respectively), from "Syria", to the ancient Hejaz region of western Arabia to a barren valley noted in the holy Quran as Bacca. Although at the time the valley of Bakkah was a desolate place it may have been a caravan route and dwelling place for some local bedouin, as the tradition states that later on a trade-caravan passes through and makes a stop here. Makkah was a narrow valley containing only thorny trees, sand and rocks. After depositing his wife Hajirah and son Ismail, prophet Ibrahim provides the mother and the child with a water skin, and returns to "Syria".

The scant details provided in the verse 37 of Surah al-Ibrahim (see note 1), suggest that the valley may have been inhabited, although sparsely, before the arrival of prophet Ibrahim, Hajirah and Ismail. The same verse also suggests that the Bail uAllah was already existing in the vicinity.

The traditional account in the Islamic history also gives details of a miraculous appearance of a water spring, today known as the ZamZam Well. Over time people started to stay here and eventually a small town-ship settlement grew around the water source. Later on prophet Ibrahim and Ismail built (or rebuilt) the Kaaba with in this settlement. And due to these factors the importance of this meagre township kept growing.

Parolin (2009), notes in his book Citizenship in the Arab World: Kin, Religion and Nation-State, that Ishmael (prophet Ismail) spoke Hebrew until he got to Mecca and married a Yemeni woman and learnt Arabic. Although the details are less-found in Islamic sources, this implies that there may very well be a settlement, known as Mecca.

circa 1813-1638 BCE

First Construction of the Kaaba
Islamic tradition notes that after leaving his wife and child in the Arabian wilderness, prophet Abraham returns and builds the Kabah with his son Ishmael.

This building of a religious shrine, i.e. Kabah may have contributed to the extended influence of the Meccans. During this time it is possible that this may have had become a stop on the caravan and trade routes, between northern and southern Arabia.

circa 50 CE

First Century CE
The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus writes about Arabia in his work Bibliotheca historica, describing a holy shrine: "And a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians". But by the time of Qusai, the city of Mecca had grown quite in fame and importance.

Scholars such as Glen W. Bowersock assert that Mecca was a major trading outpost.

circa 250 CE

Third Century CE

circa 450 CE

Fifth Century CE
In the fifth century CE, Mecca was under the control of the Quraysh tribe. They played a pivotal role in the city's economic, religious and political affairs and made it the wealthiest among three major settlements in Arabia. Although the status of Makkah as a trade hub is shrouded in the varying historical traditions, but its position as the religious center of the ancient Arabia is quite clear. This status of Mecca as a religious hub also contributed extensively to its economic prosperity.

circa 570 CE

Himyarite Invasion (570 CE)
Abraha is believed to have launched an expedition against Ka‘bah at Mecca, led by a white elephant named Mahmud, in order to destroy the Ka‘bah. According to the traditions there were some forty thousand men and several elephants, or even as many as eight. Several Arab tribes attempted to fight him on the way, but were defeated.

circa 570 CE

Birth of Prophet Muhammad
Some ten months after the invasion of Abraha, prophet Muhammad was born. By this time the ancient city of Mecca had attained a prominent position as a center of trade and religion.


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