Mecca is the holiest meeting site in Islam, closely followed by Medina. The city is modern, cosmopolitan and while being closed to non-Muslims, is nonetheless ethnically diverse.
Muslim tradition attributes the beginning of Mecca to Ishmael's descendants. In the 7th century, the Islamic prophet Muhammad proclaimed Islam in the city which was by then an important trading center. After 966, Mecca was led by local sharifs until 1924 when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and it came under the rule of the Saudis (With the exception of 1916 - 1925 when it was part of the Hashimite Kingdom of Hejaz). In its modern period, Mecca has seen tremendous expansion in size and infrastructure.
The modern day city is the capital of Saudi Arabia's Makkah Province, in the historic Hejaz region. With a population of 1.7 million (2008), the city is located 73 km (45 mi) inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of 277 m (909 ft) above sea level.