Overlooking the Kaaba, a black structure inside the Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world turn to pray, stands the four-storey Clock Tower Museum
Mecca (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Like millions of other Muslims, Cory Ireza from Indonesia travelled to Mecca to pray in the Grand Mosque. But she also found a new attraction just a stone's throw away from Islam's holiest shrine.
After performing the pilgrimage, Ireza, her husband Dodi and their two children were among the first visitors to a museum built inside the world's largest clock at the top of the globe's third tallest building.
Overlooking the Kaaba, a black structure inside the Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world turn to pray, the four-storey Clock Tower Museum opened a month ago.
It is filled with models and structures on astronomy and galaxies, as Saudi authorities aim to lure more Muslim tourists to the country.
"This museum allows us to bring the family not only for prayers but also for some extra activity... and recreation," Ireza said.
Looking down from a height of around 600 metres (almost 2,000 feet) as thousands of worshippers walked around the Kaaba, Dodi said he felt "very emotional".
Dozens of other visitors also took in the panoramic views of the mosque, the sprawling holy city and surrounding black mountains.
- Clock hands -
The four-faced Mecca Clock, as the museum is also known, with each face measuring 43 by 43 metres (47 yards), is the largest in the world and weighs some 36,000 tonnes.
It is 35 times the size of the clock at Westminster in London, known colloquially as Big Ben.
Equipped with protection against rain, sandstorms and winds, the clock is covered by a 100-million-piece glass mosaic adorned with 24-carat gold leaf.
The Clock Tower is the main high-rise building in a complex of seven towers, comprising 3,000 hotel rooms and apartments.
The Abraj Al-Bait hotel complex is a multi-billion-dollar project built after the demolition of the historical Ottoman Ajyad fortress in 2002 that sparked a diplomatic rift with Turkey.
The clock has a 128-metre-tall (420-foot) spire with a 23-metre golden crescent on top.
By night over two million LEDs illuminate the clock, making it legible from distances of eight kilometres (five miles).
Among dozens of visitors to the museum, Amro Mohammed Masadi from southern Saudi Arabia, was busy reading information printed on glass boards.
"Initially, I thought it was just a clock with normal minute hands, but I found a massive project... I've learnt new information about the age of the universe, the galaxies and other things," said Masadi, a Yemeni.
In the first floor of the museum, visitors are introduced to the universe, the sky and galaxies with audio illustrations.
The second floor is devoted to the sun and how the moon and the earth revolve around it.
Visitors to the third floor learn of instruments and methods used to determine time, and the balcony overlooking the Grand Mosque is on the top floor.
When the call for prayers sounded, Masadi and others stood in line behind the fence for the mid-day prayers.
- New vision -
The museum is run by MISK, a non-profit organisation headed by Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Museum supervisor Yaseen al-Mleaky said the Mecca Clock has received 1,200 visitors a day, with entrance costing $40, since it opened in the second week of May.
It will also be used to observe crescent moons and for lunar research, he said.
In Prince Mohammed's Vision 2030 reform programme to diversity the kingdom's economy away from oil, the kingdom aims to attract 30 million visitors to Mecca in 2030, up from the current 20 million.