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Temporary City, Population 3 Million

Temporary City, Population 3 Million
Caren Firouz / Reuters

The world’s largest temporary city is now standing outside Mecca, Saudi Arabia, housing an estimated 3 million people. They’ve been there for the past few days for the annual Hajj, possibly the largest religious pilgrimage in the world, which brings millions of Muslims from all over the world to the Islamic holy city.

Alan Taylor has a nice collection of images from the Hajj and Eid al-Adha from Mecca plus a few other locations over at the The Atlantic’s In Focus channel, in particular this aerial shot looking down on the tent city that has been built in the nearby town of Mina.

Formerly a collection of cotton tents, the temporary city at Mina was destroyed by a fire in 1997. After that tragedy, the Saudi government had a vast new city of 40,000 tents built out of fireproof fiberglass and other fabrics. The new 3 square-mile city is a highly detailed and master planned development, with discrete blocks of tents equipped with ventilation, electricity, water and sewage infrastructure, and a network of transportation infrastructure built for the millions of people walking between the tents and the various holy sites in the area.

This video from a nearby hillside shows the extent of the city, some of its walkways, tunnels and infrastructure:

This post from Bricoleurbanism includes some cool satellite and aerial images of the massive white footprint of the tents of Mina. The settlement floods the valley, and sits empty for most of the year. But for four days, which end Wednesday this year, the temporary city is crammed with people, each tent housing dozens. This video gives a taste of what it’s like within these tents:

And this rather noisy video takes the viewer on a walk through the city, navigating narrow walkways in between the tents, and out into an area crowded with honking tour buses transporting some of the pilgrims in from all over the world:

It’s a really interesting example of a temporary city. And though it’s really only active for a few days a year, it’s very much a permanent city in a physical sense. The innovative design and development of this tent city were recognized in the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai in the “Urban Best Practices Area.”

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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