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Pilgrimage Roads

With the arrival of Islam in the 7th-century, the Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina became the religious and spiritual focus of both the Arabian Peninsula and the expanding Muslim world.
Since the Prophet Muhammad traveled from Medina to Mecca in 631 CE, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the hajj, has constituted one of the five pillars of Islam. It is considered a principal duty for all Muslims to fulfill at least once in his or her lifetime.

An extended network of roads quickly developed to accommodate the multitudes of visitors to Mecca. These new roads bringing pilgrims into Arabia supplanted the roads that once transported incense out of Arabia.

Before modern transportation, four key roads reached the holy cities of Mecca and Medina: Yemeni Road (used by travelers from southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa), Damascus Road (originating in Damascus and following the western coast of Arabia), Egyptian Road (bringing pilgrims from Egypt, North Africa and Spain) and the Darb Zubayda Road (used by pilgrims from Iraq, Iran and Central Asia).

Roads of Arabia presents objects recently excavated from sites along these well-traveled roads, in addition to exquisite objects from Mecca and Medina, such as an inlaid bronze incense burner commissioned by the mother of an Ottoman sultan, and a set of gilded doors that once graced the entrance to the Ka’ba, Islam’s holiest sanctuary. Tombstones featured from the now-destroyed al-Ma’la cemetery, located north of Mecca, lend a face to the vast number of Muslims who either lived in Mecca or traveled great distances to reach it.