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Desert of Pharan documents the rapid development of Islam’s holiest city. The title is taken from the ancient name for Makkah (Mecca), or the wilderness and mountains surrounding it – Faran or Pharan (which refers to the Desert of Paran, or Wilderness of Paran, mentioned in the Old Testament).


The project maps the tension between public and private space in Islamic cities. While Makkah is home to more than a million residents, it is being transformed to cater to the needs of millions more pilgrims and tourists. Existing models of urban development have been implemented on a vast scale. Equipped with imported financial and development know-how, Makkah is attempting a transformation in order to adapt to the geopolitical, technological, environmental, geomorphological and religious context in which it exists.


In the city of Makkah, a new future is being drawn up. Its contours are becoming visible amidst a landscape teeming with initiatives – from the most public to the most private – aimed at developing and reinventing seemingly fixed rituals, states and assumptions; culminating, perhaps, in the re-imagining of life at the centre of the Islamic world.


Makkah is a source, shaped by its own narrative which can be traced back to the time of Abraham.
At the same time, increasingly significant effects emanate from it as the global Muslim population
(the Ummah or community) grows and becomes more connected. Amid a rapidly changing economic landscape, Makkah is re-examining its situation
with regard both to itself and the world beyond.


In Saudi Arabia today, contemporary models of urban development based on imported developmental know-how have become the starting point for a host of proposed new cities. For the most part, each will
be constructed on a social and historical tabula rasa. Makkah presents an alternative dialogue between plan and reality. Like few other 21st century cities, it is rooted in a complex and
highly emotive context in terms of its historical, geopolitical and religious symbolism. It is both
one of the most visited places on earth and one of the most exclusive. Yet it is in flux, it moves, grows and invents itself again.


In between the mega-developments the public space
is squeezed, and the surroundings of Islam’s most important mosque privatised. As public space disappears under pressure of real estate speculation, security measures and collective neglect, the price of private access to it increases: a view of the Haram al-Sharif, the public courtyard surrounding the Kaaba, can push the price of a hotel room to 3,000 USD a night.

This body of work asks: Is public space in the Islamic city becoming a luxury item? Is the courtyard becoming a commercial?

Ahmed mater  Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Desert of Pharan / 

Unofficial Histories behind

the Mass Expansion of Mecca