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Each year millions of Muslims make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, fulfilling the obligation that all Muslims visit Islam’s holiest city at least once in their lives, if they are physically and financially able.
During the five-day hajj, pilgrims perform a series of religious rites along a 12-kilometre route, including the ritual “Stoning of the Devil” at Jamaraat Bridge in nearby Mina.
There was a time when this was considered the most perilous part of the hajj, given the surging crowds on the narrow pedestrian bridge, which occasionally led to stampedes. As the numbers kept growing, the Saudi government sought ways to ensure the safety of worshipers that would also preserve the sanctity of the religious site.
Otis answered the call.
In 2006 Saudi authorities decided to demolish the existing bridge and start from scratch. They asked Otis to design a state-of-the-art system for moving as many as 300,000 pilgrims an hour up and across the new bridge safely, efficiently and reliably.
The new Jamaraat Bridge, completed in 2009, features five levels, a column-free interior space and 328 Otis escalators: 28 in each of the bridge’s 11 towers, plus another 20 that provide external access to the bridge. The bridge is also equipped with six passenger elevators, two ambulance elevators and two helipad elevators.
During the hajj season, escalators operate round-the-clock. Pilgrims cross the bridge multiple times on successive days to complete the ritual. During the 2017 hajj, the escalators carried an estimated total of 12.5 to 15 million passengers.
Hajj pilgrims in 2017
Completion of new bridge
During the ritual “Stoning of the Devil,” pilgrims symbolically re-enact the Prophet Abraham’s response when Satan tempted him to ignore God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac. He pelted Satan with stones to drive him off. At the last moment, God stayed Abraham’s hand, sparing Isaac and substituting a ram in his place.
According to tradition, the Jamaraat Bridge is the site of this confrontation. It is constructed around three pillars that represent Satan. In throwing pebbles at the pillars, pilgrims affirm their obedience to God and denounce evil. Remembering how Isaac was spared, pilgrims also slaughter a sheep, goat, cow or camel – or, more likely, they pay for it to be done in their name.
In weighing design proposals for the new Jamaraat Bridge, Saudi authorities consulted with Keith Still, a professor of crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom.
Still says the crowd density at the old bridge was exceptionally dangerous during the hajj – as many as 11 to 15 people per square meter. “Any trip, slip or fall in that environment could be fatal,” he says.
On the new bridge, it’s just one person per square meter.
The new bridge features three jamrah pillars many times longer than their pre-2006 predecessors to reduce congestion while pilgrims are performing the stoning ritual. Saudi authorities also issued a fatwa decreeing that the ritual could be performed between sunrise and sunset rather than only at midday.
The new bridge features more than 500 closed-circuit television cameras, monitored by dozens of security officers on the lookout for any sign of trouble.
"It is an immense responsibility," Col. Khakled Qarar Mohammadi, head of the emergency forces at the site, told CNN in 2009.
Number of lifts