The Hajj Pilgrimage In Postcards

The hajj pilgrimages organized in the ottoman lands in the 19th and early 20th centuries live on in murat kargili’s postcard collection.

Resisting war, natural disaster and epidemic disease for more than thirteen centuries, the Hajj pilgrimage is the largest meeting and sole uninterrupted religious ritual in human history. Made up to the end of the 19th century by camel, horse and mule caravans that poor pilgrims could join only on foot, the Hajj was a demanding form of worship, most of which took place on the road. These caravans eventually gave way to trains, steamships and motor cars when the technological developments that came out of the industrial revolution in the west  influenced modes of transportation. Following efforts to create and expand the area in and around the Haremeyn (Mecca and Medina) in the 1950’s due to a sharp increase in the number of pilgrims, little of the 19th century Masjid-i Haram (Holy Mosque) and Masjid-i Nabî (Mosque of the Prophet) has survived to our day. Despite there having been not the slightest change in the religious content of Hajj worship, however, the changes that took place in the physical structure over the last hundred years have surpassed those of the preceding thirteen centuries.


Postcards were one of the major forms of visual communication in a world without camera, television, mobile phone or internet. Postcards were a smart way of keeping in touch with friends and relatives in distant lands as well as showcasing the historical and cultural riches of the place you were in. The role they played in the recent past in the perception of the Hajj by the broad masses cannot be denied. We wanted to take you on a tour of the sites of the Hajj as they once were through postcards and their captions. We hope that in this way we will succeed in opening up new windows in the hearts and minds of those who have made, or are going to make, the Hajj pilgrimage, or merely have an interest in the subject.

Sending Relatives Off on the Hajj at Bosna and Tuzla
Before departing on his journey, a Hajj pilgrim would take leave of his relatives by asking forgiveness for any wrong he might have done them. He would also pray with a hoja or religious man for the welfare of those he was leaving behind as well as for his own health and safety and that he might discharge his duty and return safe and sound. Fruit syrup would then be drunk and he would be accompanied by his relatives to the point of departure.

A Hajj Caravan SettIng Out for Mecca

The Hajj journey was normally made by caravan from the earliest periods up to the end of the 19th century. A journey over mountain, sea and desert that took at least six months depending on factors like point of departure as well as weather and road conditions, it involved many perils such as hunger, thirst, disease, intensive heat and cold, problems of safety in the countryside, even death.

Hajj PIlgrIms AlIghtIng at Yanbu

The caravans proceeded by daylight in winter and rested at night; in summer they started up following the afternoon prayer and traveled by night, stopping when the sun came up. The places where the caravans alighted were called ‘menzil’. The pilgrims rested and satisfied their needs for water, food and provisions at these stops, which were usually near sources of water and protected by military forces and castles built to provide security.

3.Hamidiye Hejaz RaIlway

At the start of the 20th century in the wake of the industrial revolution, the Hamidiye Hejaz Railway was laid as the largest project ever developed for the Hajj pilgrimage. Aimed at enabling tens of thousands of pilgrims to make the journey safely and comfortably, the railway project was undertaken in 1900 and made its first run from Damascus to Mecca in 1908. Thanks to this 1,464-kilometer rail line, the Damascus-Medina route, which previously had taken caravans 40 days beset with dangers and difficulties such as thirst, contagious disease, scorching heat, freezing cold and Bedouin attacks, was transformed into a safe, comfortable and economical journey of four days.

The Sacred Litter in front of Dolmabahçe Palace The money and gifts that were sent for distribution to everyone from most prominent down to the poorest as well as to those who served the pilgrims in the holy lands of Mecca and Medina were called Surre and the ceremony staged for this purpose prior to the Hajj the Surre Procession. The lead player in this procession was the Sacred Litter (Mahmil), which consisted of a four-sided pyramid atop a wooden framework covered with embroidered silk on the back of a camel. As a symbol of their hegemony, Islamic rulers throughout history dispatched the Sacred Litter, representing the camel ridden by the Prophet Mohammed (s.a.v.), at the head of Hajj caravans during Surre Processions.

4.The Processıon Of The Sacred Litter In Cairo

From the beginning, Muslim communities have always placed great importance on the Hajj and the Haji, showing great respect and creating a series of customs, rituals and ceremonies in connection with it. The Surre and Mahmil Processions held in Istanbul, Damascus and Egypt until the last century were without a doubt some of the most magnificent organized for the Hajj and were experienced by the common people with high emotion and enthusiasm. 

5.The Holy City Of Mecca And The Holy Mosque

The Holy Mosque is at the center of Mecca and the Kaaba in the center of the mosque. Its plans drawn by Mimar Sinan and executed by Mimar Mehmet Ağa, the Sacred Mosque is seen in this postcard with its rectangular courtyard surrounded by porticoes on all four side, its 19 gates all of the same size and shape, and its seven minarets.

6. The Kaaba And Surrounding Structures

Seen in the postcard are some structures around the Kaaba that did not survive to our day following an enlargement of the circumambulation area started in the 1950’s. These include the building for the Zamzam Well, on its right the Bani Shaiba Gate, in front of it the Seat of the Prophet Mohammed, which would later be turned into a small dome taking up less space, the marble pulpit built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and the seats of the four sects of Islam opposite the four walls of the Kaaba.

7. Medina, City Of Light, And The Mosque Of The Prophet

In the postcard are seen the city of Medina in the late 19th century inside the city walls commissioned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Built up around the Mosque of the Prophet, Medina was surrounded by defense walls like many Islamic cities. As the first capital of the Islamic state and location of the Prophet Mohammad’s (s.a.v.) Holy Sepulcher, it has a prominent place in the hearts of all Muslims.