Makkah is the home of Ibrahim (pbuh). It is where Allah spoke to him directly. It is where the Angel Jibreel revealed the will of Allah to the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). It is the most sacred site in Islam
All of this make Makkah Islam's holiest city. It is also the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed (praise be upon him) who began to preach in Makkah and it was to Makkah that he returned to spread the word of Islam in 8H (632).
The Prophet (pbuh) made an annual retreat to the mountains in the 12th month (Ramadan). It was in a cave on Jebel al-Nur (The Mountain of Light) that the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) called him to prophethood by saying, "Recite in the name of your Lord who created man from a clinging clot." (Quran, 95:1-2). This became the first verses of the Qur'an.
Makkah is also the location for Islam’s holiest shrine, the Ka'aba, to which all Muslims turn when they pray. It's in the central courtyard of the Grand Mosque and, according to Islamic tradition, was built by the first prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail. Beside it is the sacred Well of Zamzam - a miraculous source of healing water, and the Mina is nearby.
Islam prescribes that all Muslims who can physically and financially afford the journey make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime to Makkah. Accordingly, the city has grown by catering for the millions of pilgrims who arrive here each year during the Hajj and Umra, and for tourists wanting to pursue the traditional pilgrim routes. The city and its environs are strictly off-limits to non-Muslims.
Although Makkah is the provincial capital, and a city of just under a million people, Jeddah (70km east) is the largest city in the province, with a population well over two million people.
For 1400 years, Jeddah has been the gateway to Makkah. Situated on the Red Sea the historic city has a sea-faring past and a merchant culture which has made it the most important trading city in the Kingdom, and the undisputed commercial capital of the country.
Jeddah is famously cosmopolitan and lively. As the former administrative capital of the country it was home to the European diplomatic embassies until 1400H (1980) when most of them moved to Riyadh. The city maintains good links to all the major cities - especially Riyadh - which is important given its contribution to the national economy.
In the Hejaz Mountains above Makkah and Jeddah is the town of Taif: the kingdom's most popular summer retreat. Its elevation gives it a cool and pleasant climate, and many families from both Jeddah and Riyadh maintain summer holiday houses here.
The climate is perfect for growing roses, and the city is well-known as a producer of high quality attar-of-roses which, as the name suggests, has a particularly sweet fragrance. It's also said to have the world's most delicious grapes and its pomegranates are legendary.
In Arabic the word Taif means "encompassing" and the name takes on another meaning - as the city of Taif becomes the official summer seat of the Saudi government.