Journey to Mecca: Mecca in Morocco

The largest and most important set in Journey to Mecca was the Mecca re-creation; nestled in a sandy valley hidden behind the film studios in Ouarzazate. As one arrives at the lip of the hill overlooking the site, Mecca emerges into view, preceded by the 76-foot high minaret.

It took 200 workers 10 weeks to complete this monumental task. The two-acre area resembled a major building site with trucks, bulldozers and diggers sending billowing clouds of dust as they shifted 3,000 tons of earth to level the land.

The vaulted arches descended into 161 columns marbleized by local artisans who learned the art from Italian filmmakers. Each column was topped with gold embossed capitals while the cornice edging the colonnade was brown and highlighted with gold accents. Crestallations crowned the imposing edifice.

In the center of the mosque is the Ka'bah, covered by the Kiswah - a black silk cloth decorated with calligraphy, which, in Mecca, is replaced annually. Four men took four weeks to sew together the Kiswah and 16 men hauled it up with ropes, leaving one side open to stitch. The silky black fabric was backed by Hessian to give it added strength. "The Ka'bah has been very challenging, partly because, from what our experts tell us, there really isn't a precise architectural recording of what the Mosque and the Ka'bah looked like in 1326," says Barker.

Production Designer Mike Fowlie and the team of researchers worked hard to gather information coming from various sources and make decisions for the construction of the Mecca set. The 14th century was a huge challenge in the absence of specific information in a single volume, so a collective effort ensued with participants in Saudi Arabia under the guidance of the King Abdulaziz Public Library and King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies as well as the notable expert Professor Nasser bin Ali Al-Harthy, Umm Al-Qura University, author of seven books on Mecca, and the esteemed Moroccan expert Dr. Tazi.

As for clothing for the Hajj, the men were draped in two pieces of unsown white cotton, one three meters long and the other two meters. The top half is Rida and the bottom half is Nida. Historically, no personal possessions were allowed so that everyone remained equal. The women wore tunics and headscarves to cover the entire body except the face and hands, according to Costume Designer Emma Bellocq.

Imams Abdullah Bellah, Monlay Abdessalam Alaoui and his assistant Omar Almoustaghfer from the Scientific and Religious Centre of Ouazazate, a representative office of the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs for the Kingdom of Morocco, organized local and regional training sessions for pilgrims for the Hajj. They were the perfect choice to train the 450 extras performing the Hajj rituals in the film and were careful to practice the Hajj rituals in the correct way.

Contents:

Genesis
Heading for Saudi Arabia
The Filmmakers
The Screenplay
Casting for Ibn Battuta
The Highwayman
Ibn Muzaffar and Hamza
Ben Kingsley as Narrator
Filming in Mecca
IMAX® film logistics
Morocco
Mecca in Morocco
The Camel Caravan
Camel Capers
Damascus, The Red Sea and The Nile
Costumes
IMAX® Isn't For Sissies
Music
Historical Advisors
Arabic Calligraphy
Ibn Battuta