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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

Last updated on: November 19, 2010 11:40 IST

Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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An exhibition of rare 1885 photographs that capture Mecca in a past is on in Dubai. Dutchman Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje took the images on wax cylinders then newly invented by Thomas Edison.

We took some of the shots taken by Snouck and assessed the transformation of the holiest place on earth for Muslims.

This image of the Kaaba -- a building known to Muslims as the holiest place on earth -- taken from a hillside is barely recognisable.

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Photographs: Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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A view of the grand mosque today.

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Photographs: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Elie Domit, host of the exhibition, said that the images were more astounding considering the lengths that he took to take them. Although cameras today are light and multifunctional, Domit mentioned that "in Snouck's day they probably weighed about 40 kilos, and he needed to take all the chemicals for developing, which he would have done on site." 

Image: Another view of the big mosque during a samalat

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Photographs: Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Present day photograph of Muslim pilgrims circling the Kaaba at the grand mosque in Mecca

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Photographs: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Also fascinating, says Domit, is the story of Snouck himself. A pioneering traveler, he was a rare Western presence in Mecca, but embraced the culture and religion of his hosts with passion, converting to Islam.

Image: Snouck's photograph of Mecca in 1885

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Photographs: Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Today's view of the grand mosque with the famous Mecca Clock at the rear

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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Snouck stayed for five months, documenting the run-up to Haj. But although he had intended to stay for the pilgrimage, he was forced to leave after unfounded accusations of his involvement in an attempt to steal a historical artifact.

Image: Snouck's photo on the tomb of Sittana Maimuna, the wife of the Prophet, during the Haj

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Photographs: Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Today's view of the location, packed with pilgrims' tents

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Photographs: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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After Snouck's departure, Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar, a local physician that the Dutchman had worked alongside, began using the camera, possibly becoming Mecca's first home-grown photographer.

Image: View on the eastern part of the Mina valley during the Haj

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Photographs: Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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This latest photo shows pilgrims on their way to cast seven stones at pillars symbolising Satan during the second day of Eid al-Adha in Mina

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Photographs: Ali Jarekji/Reuters
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Al-Ghaffar continued sending his images to Snouck in The Netherlands. Many of the photographs were originally credited solely to Snouck but they are now jointly credited, with experts unable to tell who shot what.

The images, archived by Leiden University Library, were published four years after Snouck's trip. Original copies of the album now sell for about $45,000, according to the gallery.

Image: View on Muzdalifa, the Haj stop-over place between Mina valley and Mt Arafat

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Photographs: Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje Al-Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar
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Haj THEN and NOW: 125 years apart

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Today, millions of pilgrims travel to Muzdalifah

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Photographs: Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters
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