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Tombstone of al-Ghaliya 9th century CE

Dating back to the early years of Islam, the countless tombstones in Mecca attest to the immense hardships endured by pilgrims. At the same time, they lend a human face to the multitude of devout visitors to the holy site. Most of the tombstones are hewn out of simple, irregular blocks of stone and the inscriptions are fitted to the size and shape of the surface. Although the stonemasons must have worked with simple tools, they succeeded in achieving an astounding range and variety of highly original formats and scripts.

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Al-Ma'la Cemetery, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
H x W x D: 69 x 45 x 13 cm
National Museum, Riyadh, 497/A-B
Anthropomorphic Stele Part of a Horse Pedestal or altar Statue of a Man Funerary Mask Incense Burner Head of a Man Statuette of Heracles Incense Burner Tombstone of al-Ghaliya Door of the Ka'ba
Tombstone of al-Ghaliya
Detail Timeline
Mecca, photoprint from C. Snouck Hurgronje, Bilder aus Mekka, Leiden: EJ Brill, 1889. Library of Congress

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was born in Mecca in 570 CE. At that time, Mecca was a trading center for local goods and the site of the Ka‘ba, an important pagan shrine.  Before his death in 632 CE, the Prophet designated Mecca as Islam’s holiest city and the destination of the hajj, a pilgrimage required of all Muslims. In addition to circumambulating the Ka‘ba, pilgrims are to visit several sites in Mecca as part of the hajj: they drink from the Zamzam well, which is said to have miraculously provided water for Hagar and her son Ishmael when they were lost in the desert; they throw stones at three columns to ward off temptations; and they camp at Mount Arafat, believed to be a meeting place of Adam and Eve. For more than 1,400 years, Mecca has served as the religious heart of Islam, bringing together Muslims from all over the world. 

Tombstone of Ali Tombstone of Ali Mecca, Saudi Arabia
20 Jumada II AH 478/13 October 1085 CE
H x W: 68.5 x 43.5 cm
Museum of Antiquities and Heritage, Mecca
Tombstone of Shaykh Abu Bakr Tombstone of Shaykh Abu Bakr Mecca, Saudi Arabia
8 dhu'l-hijja AH 613/18 March 1217 CE
H x W: 42 x 37cm
Qasr Khizam Museum, Jedda
Three Double Pages of a Koran Three Double Pages of a Koran North Africa or Near East
Abbasid dynasty, 9th century
Ink and gold on parchment
H x W: each 14.5 x 40 cm
National Museum, Riyadh