Great Mosque of Samarra

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Not to be confused with Samara Mosque or Al-Askari Shrine.
Great Mosque of Samarra
Samara spiralovity minaret rijen1973.jpg
Minaret at the Great Mosque of Samarra
Location Samarra, Iraq
Coordinates 34°12′21″N 43°52′47″E / 34.20583°N 43.87972°E / 34.20583; 43.87972Coordinates: 34°12′21″N 43°52′47″E / 34.20583°N 43.87972°E / 34.20583; 43.87972
Established 848

The Great Mosque of Samarra[1] is a 9th-century mosque located in Samarra, Iraq. The mosque was commissioned in 848 and completed in 851 by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil who reigned (in Samarra) from 847 until 861.

The Great Mosque of Samarra was at one time the largest mosque in the world; its minaret, the Malwiya Tower, is a vast spiralling cone 52 meters high and 33 meters wide with a spiral ramp.[2]The reign of al-Mutawakkil had a great effect on the appearance of the city, for he seems to have been a lover of architecture, and the one responsible for building the great Mosque of Samarra.[3] In a list of his building projects which appears in several different versions, the new Congregational Mosque and up to 20 palaces are mentioned, totalling between 258 and 294 million dirhams. The new Congregational Mosque, with its spiral minaret, built between 849 (235 H) and 851 (235 H), formed part of an extension of the city to the east, extending into the old hunting park.[4]

The mosque had 17 aisles, and its walls were panelled with mosaics of dark blue glass. It was part of an extension of Samarra eastwards.

On April 1, 2005, the top of the Malwiya minaret was damaged by a bomb. Insurgents reportedly attacked the tower because U.S. troops had been using it as a lookout position. However, per Tony Blair in his January 21, 2011 Iraq Inquiry testimony, insurgents had attacked the mosque to incite Sunni-Shiite violence and further destabilize the country. The blast removed pieces of brick from the top of the minaret along its spiral ramp.[5][not in citation given (See discussion.)]

The art and architecture of the mosque was influential; stucco carvings within the mosque in floral and geometric designs represent early Islamic decoration. Additionally, the mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt was based on the Samarra mosque in many regards.[6]

The mosque was destroyed in 656 AH (1278 CE) after the Hulagu Khan invasion of Iraq. Only the outer wall and its minaret remain.[7]

"Great mosque, Samarra, was built during the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil. It is the largest mosque in the world. Built entirely of brick within a wall flanked with towers, it has a 55 m high minaret with a spiral ramp that recalls the ziggurats of Mesopotamia".

—Henri Stierlin, Comprende l'Architecture universelle 2. p347.[8]


The Malwiya Minaret (Arabic: ملويةmalwiyah) is part of the Great Mosque of Samarra. The mosque is one of the largest in the world, and was built by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil.[9] The minaret was originally connected to the mosque by a bridge.

The minaret or tower was constructed in 848 – 852 of sandstone, and is unique among other minarets because of its ascending spiral conical design. 52 metres high and 33 metres wide at the base, the spiral contains stairs reaching to the top.[9] The word "malwiya" translates as "twisted" or "snail shell".

At the top of the cone is a small cylindrical room with a six-metre radius. This room is decorated with eight arcs on the outside.[10] Each arc is erected on two small brick posts.

The Malwiya was used for the "call to prayer"; its height made it practical for such use. It is visible from a considerable distance in the area around Samarra and therefore may have been designed as a strong visual statement of the presence of Islam in the Tigris Valley.[9]


  1. ^ in Arabic: جامع سامراء الكبير‎ or المسجد الجامع في سامراء or مسجد سامراء الكبير
  2. ^ See Historic Mosques site.
  3. ^ Dennis, Sharp (1991). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Whitney Library of Design. p. 204. 
  4. ^ D. Hoag., John. "Islamic Architecture". Electra/Rizzoli. 
  5. ^ See BBC article concerning damage to the mosque.
  6. ^ Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. "Islamic architecture in Cairo: an introduction." American University in Cairo Press: 2005. 51-57
  7. ^ "مسجد سامرا ؛ برخوردار از مناره ای 53 متری و حلزونی شکل" (in Persian). Mehr News Agency. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  8. ^ Henri, Stierlin (1977). Comprendre l'Architecture Universelle 2. Fribourg, Switzerland: Office du Livre. p. 347. 
  9. ^ a b c Kleiner, Fred S. and Christin J. Mamiya. Gardner's Art Through the Ages: 12th edition. Thomson Wadsworth, 2005
  10. ^ Samarra: Global Security. Pike, John. 2000-2009. 22-2-2006 21:14:21 org

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