Saudi monarch King Abdullah has ordered the flattening of homes and hills to prepare the way for a £6bn facelift of Mecca.

The holiest city in Islam will undergo six development projects, including the construction of hotels, apartments and shopping malls to cater for the pilgrim market.

The biggest change will be to the courtyards of the Grand Mosque, which can hold at least 100,000 worshippers during prayer times.

An ambitious expansion programme has led to the demolition of 1,000 properties in the immediate Shamiya area and Saudi authorities have set aside an estimated £80m to compensate the homeowners, the Guardian reports.

There will also be a new residential district to the south-west of the mosque.

Construction firms have begun to level hills to create a 230,000-square-metre area that will include high-rise apartments and air conditioned prayer facilities for up to 120,000.

By staff writer