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Great Mosque of Samarra

Coordinates: 34°12′21″N 43°52′47″E / 34.20583°N 43.87972°E / 34.20583; 43.87972
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Great Mosque of Samarra
Arabic: جَامِع سَامَرَّاء ٱلْكَبِيْر
مَسْجِد سَامَرَّاء ٱلْكَبِيْر
ٱلْمَسْجِد ٱلْجَامِع فِي سَامَرَّاء
Ecclesiastical or organisational statusMosque and shrine
LocationSamarra, Iraq
Great Mosque of Samarra is located in Iraq
Great Mosque of Samarra
Location in Iraq
Geographic coordinates34°12′21″N 43°52′47″E / 34.20583°N 43.87972°E / 34.20583; 43.87972
Date established848 CE
Completed851 CE
Destroyed1278 CE
Minaret height52 metres (171 ft)
Official nameSamarra Archaeological City
CriteriaCultural: ii, iii, iv
Inscription2007 (31st Session)
Area15,058 hectares (37,210 acres)
Buffer zone31,414 hectares (77,630 acres)

The Great Mosque of Samarra (Arabic: جَامِع سَامَرَّاء ٱلْكَبِيْر, romanizedJāmiʿ Sāmarrāʾ al-Kabīr, Arabic: مَسْجِد سَامَرَّاء ٱلْكَبِيْر, romanizedMasjid Sāmarrāʾ al-Kabīr, or Arabic: ٱلْمَسْجِد ٱلْجَامِع فِي سَامَرَّاء, romanizedal-Masjid al-Jāmiʿ fī Sāmarrāʾ, lit.'The Congregational Mosque in Samarra') is a mosque from the 9th century CE 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. At the time of construction, it was the world's largest mosque.[1] It is known for its 52 metres (171 ft) high minaret encircled by a spiral ramp. The mosque is located within the 15,058-hectare (37,210-acre) Samarra Archaeological City UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed in 2007.[2]


For a time, the mosque was the largest in the world; its minaret, the Malwiya Tower, is a spiralling cone 52 metres (171 ft) high and 33 metres (108 ft) wide with a spiral ramp.[3]

Full aerial view of the mosque, with Al-Askari Shrine in the background

The reign of Al-Mutawakkil had a great effect on the appearance of the city, for he seemed to have been a lover of architecture, and the one responsible for building the Great Mosque of Samarra.[4] Al-Mutawakkil and his hired workers as well as other people from the area constructed this mosque using baked brick octagon piers that included four marble columns in the corners. The marble columns were imported, which draws on the fact that Al-Mutawakkil hired artists and architects from all over the Abbasid empire to help him construct the Great Mosque.[5] In a list of his building projects which appears in several different versions, the new Congregational Mosque and up to twenty palaces are mentioned, totalling between 258 and 294 million dirhams. The new Congregational Mosque, with its spiral minaret, built between 849 (235 AH) and 851 (235 AH), formed part of an extension of the city to the east, extending into the old hunting park.[6]

The mosque had 17 aisles, and its walls were paneled with mosaics of dark blue glass. It was part of an extension of Samarra eastwards. The art and architecture of the mosque were influential; stucco carvings within the mosque in floral and geometric designs represent early Islamic decoration. The Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt, was based on the Samarra Mosque in many regards and similarly stands in a large open space.[7]

At the time of construction, another major feature of Samarra was the inlets of the great Nahrawan canal. This provided flood plains for a rich agricultural centre. Small and medium sized game were also hunted in the area. This encompassed the main area of the city that held Islamic structures like the main palace and subsidiary palaces of the Waziri and the Umari as well as a large number of houses in a residential area. The Great Mosque was built right outside this main area and became a staple for the people of Samarra as well as visitors and foreigners. This project, along with others by Al-Mutawakkil, transformed the city of Samarra from a medium-sized centre into the enormous city seen today.[8]

The mind behind the mosque, Al-Mutawakkil, was assassinated in 861, and structures like this mosque were then difficult to credit to a subsequent caliph. There was unrest and a ten year period of trouble, including a civil war in 865–866. This Great Mosque was one of the last buildings with a known name attributed to it in this period.[8]

The mosque was destroyed in 1278 C.E. (656 A.H.), after Hulagu Khan's invasion of Iraq.[9]

Modern conservation[edit]

Only the mosque's outer wall and its minaret have been preserved.[9] The Iraqi State Organization of Antiquities have been working closely with historians and architects in a restoration process starting in 1956. They tasked people to restore various monuments in Samarra including the Great Mosque. There was extensive restoration done to both the courtyard of the mosque as well as the spiral minaret. Previously, only 6 steps remained in the minaret and very few complete arches surrounded the courtyard.[10]

The minaret sustained further damage in 2005, when its top was destroyed by an explosion. According to some sources, Iraqi insurgents were responsible for the attack, following the tower's use as a sniper position by US forces.[11][12][13] In 2015, UNESCO and the Iraqi government announced a project to restore the minaret and assess damages to the rest of the Samarra archeological site,[14] which was made a World Heritage Site in 2007.[15]



The mosque's main structure is encompassed by a baked brick wall on the outer edge including forty-four semi-circular towers supporting the structure. The outer wall includes twenty-eight windows. Twenty-four of them are facing the southeastern side, the qiblah. There is one window for each aisle, excluding the mihrab site. The building has a total of sixteen doors that provide access. The interior of the mosque presents a large courtyard surrounded by covered aisles on all sides.[16] The prayer hall featured a large mihrab framed as an arch. There was a fountain in the center of the courtyard that was covered and decorated in marble tile and mosaics. This fountain was believed to be carved from one large stone (called a kasat al-fir'awn or, the Pharaoh's Cup) and carried to this area by elephants. It was constructed by caliph al-Wathiq. The traditional mosque courtyard was square, however, the Great Mosque of Samarra portrayed a rectangular courtyard surrounded by these two layers of walls. It is known by historians and architects for the walls of the mosque to be covered in glazed or glass panels. These would be in the traditional blues, whites, and golds used in many other mosques. Fragments of these panels have been found by archaeologists working on the mosques.[16] The interior of the mosque has ceilings with a height of 11 meters with a total of 464 pillars supporting this baked brick ceiling. For the most part the interior is plain and the focus was a strong foundation set by a continuous brick slab holding together these pillars.[17]


The Malwiya minaret, standing on the north side of the mosque

Al-Minārat al-Malwiyyah (Arabic: ٱلْمِنَارَة ٱلْمَلْوِيَّة, "The Twisted Minaret" or "The Snail Shell Minaret")[18][19] 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 (171 ft) high and 33 metres (108 ft) wide at the base, the spiral contains stairs reaching to the top.[20]

The height of the Malwiyyah made it practical to be used for the adhan (call to prayer). 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.[20]

The minaret's unique spiral design is said by some to be derived from the architecture of the Mesopotamian ziggurats.[21] This design, completed under al-Mutawakkil, was unlike other minarets created in this time or anything else seen in the Islamic world because of its base's shape. The Mesopotamian Ziggurats had a square base while this minaret and others built like it in Iraq have a circular base with a twisted spiral leading up to the top.[5] Some consider the influence of the Pillar of Gor, which was also square not circular, built in the Sasanian Empire, more prominent.[22] This style of spiraling minaret was then repeated by the caliph Abu Dulaf for his mosque (also in Samarra). These minarets become a focal point of the skyline in any city and are a call to attention and prayer.[23] These earlier theories which proposed that these helicoidal minarets were inspired by ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats has been challenged and rejected by some modern scholars including Richard Ettinghausen, Oleg Grabar, and Jonathan Bloom.[24][25]

The minaret's spiral shape inspired Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Philip Johnson's design for the 1976 Chapel of Thanksgiving at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, Texas, in the United States.[26][27][28] The minarets of a prominent Emirati mosque, that of Sheikh Khalifa in Al Ain, have been also been inspired by this minaret.[29] The influence of the minaret and courtyard of the mosque is seen in these places, as well as in modern mosques.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ al-Amid, Tahir Muzaffar (1973), "The Abbasid Architecture of Samarra in the Reign of both al-Mu'tasim and al-Mutawakkil", Baghdad: Al-Ma'aref Press: 156–193
  2. ^ "Unesco names World Heritage sites". BBC News. 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  3. ^ "Historic Mosques site". Archived from the original on 2006-07-10.
  4. ^ Dennis, Sharp (1991). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Whitney Library of Design. p. 204.
  5. ^ a b Roxburgh, David (2019), Architecture of Empire The Abbasids
  6. ^ D. Hoag., John. Islamic Architecture. Electra/Rizzoli.
  7. ^ Behrens-Abouseif, Doris (2005), Islamic architecture in Cairo: an introduction, American University in Cairo Press, pp. 51–57
  8. ^ a b Northedge, Alastair (1991), Creswell, Herzfeld, and Samarra, Brill
  9. ^ a b "مسجد سامرا ؛ برخوردار از مناره ای 53 متری و حلزونی شکل" (in Persian). Mehr News Agency. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  10. ^ Tariq, Al-Janabi (1983), "Islamic Archaeology in Iraq: Recent Excavations at Samarra." (PDF), World Archaeology, 14 (3): 305–327, doi:10.1080/00438243.1983.9979871, JSTOR 124344
  11. ^ "Top of ancient Iraq minaret blown up". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  12. ^ Carroll, Rory (2005-04-02). "Iraqi insurgents blow top off historic monument". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  13. ^ "Ancient minaret damaged in Iraq". 2005-04-01. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  14. ^ "UNESCO and Iraq launch project for conservation of World Heritage site of Samarra". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  15. ^ "Samarra Archaeological City". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  16. ^ a b Al-Amid, T.M. (1873). Abbasid architecture of Samarra in the reign of both Al-Mu'tasim and Al-Mutawakkil. Baghdad: Al-Maʻaref Press. pp. 156–193.
  17. ^ The Great Mosque of Samarra, Architecture and Religion, UKessays, 18 May 2020
  18. ^ Kuban, Doğan (1974). "The Development of Early Mosque Architecture". The Mosque and Its Early Development. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. p. 16. ISBN 9004038132.
  19. ^ Kleiner, Fred (2011). "The Islamic World". Gardner's Art through the Ages: Backpack Edition, Book 3. Boston, the USA: CEngage Learning. p. 289. ISBN 9781133711209.
  20. ^ a b Kleiner, Fred S.; Christin J. Mamiya (2005). Gardner's Art Through the Ages (12th ed.). Thomson Wadsworth.
  21. ^ Henri, Stierlin (1977). Comprendre l'Architecture Universelle 2. Fribourg, Switzerland: Office du Livre. p. 347. 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
  22. ^ "The city of Samarra was built during the Mu'tokul Abbasid period". Rch.ac.ir. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  23. ^ Roxburgh, David (2019), Architecture of Empire The Abbasids
  24. ^ Bloom, Jonathan M. (2019). "Minaret". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Three. Brill. ISBN 9789004161658.
  25. ^ Ettinghausen, Richard; Grabar, Oleg; Grabar, Professor Emeritus of Islamic Art and Architecture Oleg; Jenkins, Marilyn (2003-07-11). Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250: 2nd Edition. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-08869-4.
  26. ^ "Self-Guided Tour". Thanksgiving.org. Archived from the original on 2017-05-26. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  27. ^ "Travel Tips: Thanks-Giving Chapel's Islamic Design a Visual, Spiritual Gem in Downtown Dallas". WRMEA. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  28. ^ Schulze, Franz (1996). Philip Johnson: Life and Work. University of Chicago Press. p. 334. ISBN 978-0-226-74058-4.
  29. ^ Al Nuaimi, Rashid (2019-06-28). "Iconic Al Ain mosque work in final stages". Gulf Today. Retrieved 2019-07-24.

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