Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
(Om A -Kora, Mother of Cities), the birthplace of Mohammed, and therefore the central and most sacredly guarded and honored city of Arabia, is one of its oldest towns, the capital of the province of Hejaz. It is situated in 21 ° 30' N. lat., and 40 ° 8' E. long., 245 miles south of Medina (q.v.), and about 65 miles east of Jiddah, the well-known port on the Red Sea, in a narrow, barren valley, surrounded by bare hills and sandy plains, and watered by the brook Wady Al-Tarafeyn. The city is about 1500 paces long, and about 650 broad, and is divided into the Upper and Lower City, with twenty-five chief quarters. The streets are broad and rather regular, but unpaved; excessively dusty in summer, and muddy in the rainy season. The houses, three or four stories high, are built of brick or stone, ornamented with paintings, and their windows open on the streets. The rooms are much more handsomely furnished, and altogether in a better state than is usual in the East, the inhabitants of Mecca making their living chiefly by letting them to the pilgrims who flock hither to visit the Beit Allah (House of God), or chief mosque, containing the Kaaba (q.v.). This mosque, capable of holding about 35,000 persons, is surrounded by nineteen gates surmounted by seven minarets, and contains several rows of pillars, about twenty feet high, and about eighteen inches. in diameter, of marble, granite, porphyry, and common sandstone, which at certain distances are surmounted by small domes. A great number of people are attached to the mosque in some kind of ecclesiastical capacity, as katibs, muftis, mueddins, etc. Pilgrimages have very much decreased of late years, and in consequence the inhabitants of this city, at one time containing 100,000, now scarcely counts 40,000 regular residents. The age of the city of Mecca is not exactly known. We find that it was in quite a flourishing condition in the days of Ptolemy, under. the name of Macoraba. ‘ Mohammed, who had been obliged to quit it quite precipitately in AD. 622, returned to it in 627, forcing his entrance as conqueror. At first it belonged to the tribe of the Kosaites, later to the Koreish (q.v.). Within the course of the present century (1803) Mecca was taken by the Wahabies (q.v.), but given up again to the pacha of Egypt, Mehemet Ali (1833), whose son Ibrahim was made sheik El-Haram -" of the Sacred Place." At present, however, Mecca is directly dependent on the sultan of Turkey. A certain balm, the "Balm of Mecca," is made from a plant called Besem, which grows in abundance in the neighborhood of the city. Another chief article of manufacture, and a great source of income to the residents of Mecca, are the chaplets for pious pilgrims. See Chambers, Cyclop. s.v.; Der Christliche Apologete; 1872, Nov. 12.
The Nuttall Encyclopedia 
The birthplace of Mahomet, the Holy City and Keblah of the Moslems, the capital of Hedjaz and the true capital of Arabia; in the midst of sandy valleys, and 60 m. distant from Jeddah, its port; a city to which every true Mussulman must make a pilgrimage once in his life; has a population which varies from 30,000 to 60,000. See Caaba .