"This is one of the largest development projects related to the Grand Masjid and will change the face of Mekah," said Al-Bar. The expansion will create more prayer space on the northern and northwestern parts of the masjid, he added.
King Abdullah ordered the expansion earlier this month. Prince Miteb, minister of municipal and rural affairs, said the project would include the construction of pedestrian tunnels and service stations.
The royal decree covers expropriation of real estate on the northern and northwestern sides of the masjid, covering an area of 300,000 square metres. "Special committees have begun estimating the value of real estate in the area," Miteb said.
As many as 1,000 properties in the area called Shamiya and Shubaika will be demolished as part of the expansion project and the government has allocated some SR6 billion ($2.29 billion) as compensation. Informed sources said the demolition of old buildings in the area would be completed within 60 days so that the new project could begin.
According to the mayor, the new project will cover the area beginning at Masjid Al-Haram Street and Gazza on the east to Jabal Al-Ka'bah Street and Shubaika Graveyard on the west. It will also run through Abu Sufyan Street, Raquba, Abdullah ibn Zubair Street, Shamiya, Jabal Hindi, Khalid ibn Walid Street and Shubaika reaching Jabal Ka'bah Street, Al-Bar said.
"New pedestrian tunnels linking the northern areas with the masjid's new courtyard will be constructed as part of the project," he added.
The first major expansion of the masjid in modern times was ordered in 1925 by King Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia. King Fahd initiated the masjid's largest expansion in 1989, increasing its prayer area from 152,000 to 356,000 square metres.
The total area of courtyards around the masjid is estimated at more than 40,000 square metres, and can accommodate at least 100,000 worshippers.
Earlier this month the Shoura Council recommended additional budget allocations for the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques in order to help it extend better services to pilgrims during Haj and Umrah seasons and conduct scientific research pertaining to the two holy masjids.
The Shoura also called for conducting a study on installing sunshades on the masjid's roof and its surrounding courtyards. It also proposed the installation of new electric stairs on the northern side of the masjid up to the roof in order to help the faithful pray there during peak times; it also called for the modernisation of machinery and equipment at the masjid and the Ka'bah Cover Factory.