Every year, millions of pilgrims come from around the world to pay homage at the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which is believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. Every able-bodied Muslim is expected to make the trip at some point in the lives, and those who have taken the hajj, as the pilgrimage is known, can add the honorific hajji to their names. Here, we take a look at Mecca as this year's hajj, which officially begins Wednesday, kicks off.
The hajj begins at a way station just outside Mecca known as the Miqat, where visitors put on ceremonial seamless garments and recite a prayer. The pilgrims then walk to the Kaaba -- the most sacred site in Islam -- and walk around it seven times repeating prayers. Above, an aerial view shows Muslim pilgrims gathering at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Oct. 22.The Kaaba is the square, black building inside the mosque.