City in Saudi Arabia with 618,000 inhabitants. Mecca is located about 80 km from the Red Sea Coast, around a natural well.
Mecca is the most holy city in Islam. The city is revered from being the first place created on earth, as well as the place where Ibrahim together with his son Isma'il, built the Ka'ba. The Ka'ba, the centre of Islam, is a rectangular building made of bricks. Around the Ka'ba is the great mosque, al-Haram, and around the mosque, in between the mountains, are the houses making up Mecca.
Mecca was a central point on the caravan routes running over the Arabian peninsula at the time of Muhammad. Mecca was revered as a holy city even before the first revelations came to Muhammad. Today's pilgrimage in Mecca has many common traits with the pagan activities in the city.
Mecca's importance as a centre of religious teaching must not be exaggerated. Very soon in the beginning of the Muslim expansion, religious teaching moved to other places in the Muslim world. Mecca is important in two points: Centre of the compulsory pilgrimage, and a focal point for all Muslims.
Today, many of the people living in Mecca are pilgrims wanting to study Islam in the very centre of the world. But this learning is primarily aimed at normal people, and even today Muslim theology is exercised other places. But for Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the centre of religious teaching.
Apart from the services for pilgrimage there are only modest economical activities going on. Every year some 2 million pilgrims attend the hajj, and this number is now regulated, where each country has their number. The numbers of Muslims coming to Mecca for the umra, the lesser pilgrimage are far less, and not regulated.