- Alfred Dehodencq
- signed alfred Dehodencq lower left
- oil on canvas
- 85.5 by 120cm., 33¾ by 47¼in.
Dehodencq's large and lavish rendition of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) en route to Mecca is an especially magnificent and wonderfully detailed painting of the subject by a Western artist. The landscape is not specific, but the shoreline might suggest a location on the Red Sea, south of Aqaba. At the centre of the enfilade of dignitaries, janissaries, soldiers, and musicians and mounted on the leading camel is the holy mahmal, the elaborate coffer containing the Koran that accompanies the pilgrims to Mecca.
Ottoman control of the Hajj developed with the rise of the Ottoman Empire. The sacking of Constantinople in 1453 established the Ottomans as the principle Muslim power worldwide and their later conquest of Egypt and Syria in 1515 and 1517 gave them control of the eastern border of the Red Sea including Mecca and Medina. With the Sultan's adoption of the role of protector of the two shrines at Mecca and Medina the pre-eminent status of the Ottoman Sultan among Muslim rulers was confirmed. In the ensuing years the Ottomans did their utmost to be seen as leaders of the Muslim world and defenders of Islam's holiest cities, a role that included building forts and defences to upgrade the Hajj routes, the three most important of which led from Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad.
As one of the five pillars of Islam along with prayer five times a day, fasting, the giving of alms, and bearing witness that there is only one true God, each Muslim was and is required to attempt Hajj at least once in a lifetime to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Setting off in the last month of the Islamic year, tens of thousands of pilgrims from all segments of society joined these caravans, which under Ottoman control were in their size and organisation like moving cities. The Hajj travelled at night to avoid the heat of the sun, and pitched camp near wells. Each watering place along the route was provided with a small fortress and a rest house.