The Holy Kaaba is the most important site in the Islamic world. The cube-like structure draped in black cloth is located at the centre of the most important mosque in Islamic culture, the Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca. The structure determines the prayer orientation of Muslims around the world, and is considered by them to be ‘Beit Allah’ – the house of God.

Despite the vast significance of this holy site, illustrative depictions of it are notably uncommon. This is predominantly because iconography is prohibited in Islam, thus Islamic manuscripts focus on the beauty and aesthetic of the unadorned script instead of illustrating the text with scenes from the holy scripture, as seen in the Western manuscript tradition.

However, over the centuries a few individual texts began to emerge that featured illustrations of Mecca and the Holy Ka’ba as visual guides and representations of the historical sites. One such text, and the most popular of these, is a prayer book by the Muslim Saint of Marrakesh Muhammad ibn Suleyman al-Jazuli (d. 1465) entitled Dala’il al-Khayrat.

Dala’il al-Khayrat by Muhammad ibn Suleyman AL-JAZULI

The other known prayerbook to feature illustrations of Mecca is the Anam’i Sharif, an adaptation of Jazuli’s text that includes many additional illustrations that commonly relate to the Prophet Muhammad and items of eschatological relevance. We have an abridged miniature adaptation of this Sunni prayerbook in concertina form, probably used for its talismanic properties.

A faithful account of the religion and manners of the Mahometans by Joseph PITTS

In print, the first authentic record of an Englishman describing the Hajj was provided by Joseph Pitts. The first illustrated edition of his Faithful account of the religion and manners of the Mahometans was printed in 1731 and includes an aerial view of Mecca.

From the more obscure realm of Mecca-related publications, we have La Moschea della Meccawhich is an article published in the Periodico Bimestrale in Turin 1873-74 that includes a detailed history of the area and provides details known historical accounts from the region. Illustrated here is a large folding reproduction of a tile design depicting the topographical layout and design of Mecca.

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