Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has ordered the preservation of the Ottoman portico within the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca during a project to expand the prayer area in the mosque, a Turkish daily reported on Sunday.
The project will increase the size of the mosque to 500,000 square meters, doubling its current size. However, there have been debates as to whether the historic Ottoman portico within the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca will be demolished as part of the project or not.
According to Star, King Abdullah ordered only the porticos that were built in recent times to be demolished but to keep the historic Ottoman portico.
Following a request from the king that a Turkish company do the expansion work within the mosque, a Turkish company was selected for the task and began inspections to ascertain which of the portico sections in the mosque are authentic and which were re-built. It found that 27 sections of the porticos had been re-built.
The Saudi project again drew the ire of Muslims when some sections of the portico were about to be demolished several days ago. However, the Saudi authorities announced that the demolished sections of the portico were built 10 years ago after their original form was greatly damaged by previous construction work on the hills of Safa and Marwa.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly raised the matter at one of his meetings with the Saudi king several months ago and requested that the portico, the only remnant of Ottoman heritage in Mecca, be left intact.
Almost 300 historical buildings around the Kaaba have been demolished as part of initiatives to enlarge the area around the Grand Mosque in the last 80 years.
Within the scope of the recent project, Saudi Arabia plans to increase the mosque's indoor capacity to 630,000 people. The current project is being carried out in two stages. The first, which began in 2009, involved the demolition of 2,350 hotels, offices and other buildings around the mosque, with another 1,900 buildings set to be demolished soon. During the second stage, which is currently being carried out, the prayer area will be expanded.