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Here are some important details about this historic city.



Sāmarrā (Arabic: سامَرّاء‎) is a city in Iraq. It stands on the east bank of the Tigris in the Saladin Governorate, 125 kilometers (78 mi) north of Baghdad. In 2003 the city had an estimated population of 348,700. Samarra is in the Sunni Triangle.


The city was once the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate and the only remaining Islamic capital that retains its original plan, architecture and artistic relics. In 2007, UNESCO named Samarra one of its World Heritage Sites.



Ancient Samarra


The remains of prehistoric Samarra were first excavated between 1911 and 1914 by the German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld. Samarra became the type site for the Samarra culture. Since 1946, the notebooks, letters, unpublished excavation reports and photographs have been in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.


A city of Sur-marrati (refounded by Sennacherib in 690 BC according to a stele in the Walters Art Museum) is insecurely identified with a fortified Assyrian site of Assyrian at al-Huwaysh on the Tigris opposite modern Samarra. The State Archives of Assyria Online identifies Surimarrat as the modern site of Samarra.


Ancient place names for Samarra noted by the Samarra Archaeological Survey are Greek Souma (Ptolemy V.19, Zosimus III, 30), Latin Sumere, a fort mentioned during the retreat of the army of Julian in 363 AD (Ammianus Marcellinus XXV, 6, 4), and Syriac Sumra (Hoffmann, Auszüge, 188; Michael the Syrian, III, 88), described as a village.


The possibility of a larger population was offered by the opening of the Qatul al-Kisrawi, the northern extension of the Nahrawan Canal which drew water from the Tigris in the region of Samarra, attributed by Yaqut al-Hamawi (Muʿjam, see under "Qatul") to Khosrau I (531–578). To celebrate the completion of this project, a commemorative tower (modern Burj al-Qa'im) was built at the southern inlet south of Samarra, and a palace with a "paradise" or walled hunting park was constructed at the northern inlet (modern Nahr ar-Rasasi) near ad-Dawr. A supplementary canal, the Qatul Abi al-Jund, excavated by the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, was commemorated by a planned city laid out in the form of a regular octagon (modern Husn al-Qadisiyya), called al-Mubarak and abandoned unfinished in 796.


Abbasid capital


In 836 the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mu'tasim founded a new capital at the banks of the Tigris. Here he built extensive palace complexes surrounded by garrison settlements for his guards, mostly drawn from Central Asia and Iran (most famously the Turks, as well as the Khurasani Ishtakhaniyya, Faraghina and Ushrusaniyya regiments) or North Africa (like the Maghariba). Although quite often called Mamluk slave soldiers, their status was quite elevated; some of their commanders bore Sogdian titles of nobility.


The city was further developed under Caliph al-Mutawakkil, who sponsored the construction of lavish palace complexes, such as al-Mutawakkiliyya, and the Great Mosque of Samarra with its famous spiral minaret or Malwiya, built in 847. For his son al-Mu'tazz he built the large palace Bulkuwara.


Samarra remained the residence of the caliph until 892, when al-Mu'tadid eventually returned to Baghdad. The city declined but maintained a mint until the early 10th century.


The Nestorian patriarch Sargis (860–72) moved the patriarchal seat of the Church of the East from Baghdad to Samarra, and one or two of his immediate successors may also have sat in Samarra so as to be close to the seat of power.


After the collapse of the Abbasid empire in about 940 Samarra was abandoned. Its population returned to Baghdad and the city rapidly declined. Its field of ruins is the only world metropolis of late antiquity which is available for serious archaeology.


Islamic significance


The city is also home to al-Askari Shrine, containing the mausolea of the Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari, the tenth and eleventh Shiʿi Imams, respectively, as well as the place from where Muhammad al-Mahdi, known as the "Hidden Imam", went into The Occultation in the belief of the Twelvers. This has made it an important pilgrimage centre for the Twelvers. In addition, Hakimah and Narjis, female relatives of the Muhammad and the Imams, held in high esteem by Muslims, are buried there, making this mosque one of the most significant sites of worship.


The Sunnis also pray in the mosques similar to the Shi'a; they also conduct pilgrimages to these sites, coming as far as from South and Southeast Asia, but they do not believe this to be obligatory, but rather an affair providing spiritual blessings.


Modern ERA

Men walk down a street in Samarra in 1970. Al-Askari Shrine is in the background. In the eighteenth century, one of the most bloody battles of the 1730–35 Ottoman–Persian War, the Battle of Samarra, took place, where over 50,000 Turks and Persians became casualties. The engagement decided the fate of Ottoman Iraq and kept it under Istanbul's suzerainty until the first world war.


During the 20th century, Samarra gained new importance when a permanent lake, Lake Tharthar, was created through the construction of the Samarra Barrage, which was built in order to prevent the frequent flooding of Baghdad. Many local people were displaced by the dam, resulting in an increase in Samarra's population.


Al-Askari Shrine after the first attack.


Samarra is a key city in Saladin Governorate, a major part of the so-called Sunni Triangle where insurgents were active during the Iraq War.


Though Samarra is famous for its Shi'i holy sites, including the tombs of several Shi'i Imams, the town was traditionally and until very recently, dominated by Sunni Arabs. Tensions arose between Sunnis and the Shi'a during the Iraq War. On February 22, 2006, the golden dome of the al-Askari Mosque was bombed, setting off a period of rioting and reprisal attacks across the country which claimed hundreds of lives. No organization claimed responsibility for the bombing. On June 13, 2007, insurgents attacked the mosque again and destroyed the two minarets that flanked the dome's ruins. On July 12, 2007, the clock tower was blown up. No fatalities were reported. Shiʿi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for peaceful demonstrations and three days of mourning. He stated that he believed no Sunni Arab could have been behind the attack, though according to the New York Times the attackers were likely Sunnis linked to Al-Qaeda.[9] The mosque compound and minarets had been closed since the 2006 bombing. An indefinite curfew was placed on the city by the Iraqi police.


Ever since the end of Iraqi civil war in 2007, the Shia population of the holy city has increased exponentially. However, violence has continued, with bombings taking place in 2011 and 2013. In June 2014, the city was attacked by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as part of the Northern Iraq offensive. ISIL forces captured the municipality building and university, but were later repulsed.




  • Al-Malwiyah Historical Site - Al-Malwiyah is a spiral minaret of what is called The Great Mosque of Samarra.It`s build in 847AC by the Caliph Al-Mutawakkil. The Mosque's minaret is the famous Spiral (Al-Malweyya), which rises 27 m away from the northern side of the Mosque to a height of 52 m. Some historians believe that it pre-dates the Mosque and that Caliph Al-Mu'tasim built it.

  • Al-Askari Shrine - It is one of the most important Shī‘ah Shrines in the world, built in 944. Adjacent to the shrine is a mosque, which is called Al-Askari Mosque. The ‘Askariyya Shrine is also known as the "Tomb or Mausoleum of the Two Imāms", "the Tomb of Imāms ‘Alī al-Hādī (10th Imam) and Hasan al-‘Askarī" (11th Imam)) and Hakimah Khatun (sister of Ali al-Hadi) and Narjis (mother of Muhammad al-Mahdi the twelfth Shia Imam). The cellar from which the twelfth or "Hidden" Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi disappeared from view is also found within this mosque. Al-Askareyya Shrine has a golden dome that dazzles the eye. With a circumference of 68 m wide and more than 72,000 golden pieces, it is one of the biggest domes in the Islamic world. Each one of its two golden minarets is 36 m high.

  • The Caliphs Residence - Built by Caliph Al-Mu'tasim in 835 AD to overlook the Tigris river with 700 m long front. Of its remains, nowadays, you can see a group of 3 ewans (arched facades), the central one measuring 17.5x8 m, with a height of 12 m. These ewans were called Bab Al-'Amma (The Commoners Gate): the Caliph would sit there to hear the people's complaints and suggestions, as Muslim Caliphs always took personal interest in their citizens' affairs.

  • Abu Duluf Mosque - Samarra was penetrated by a very long axial street called Al-Adham (the Greatest), at the end of which, 22 km away north of the modern city, are the remnants of a large mosque still mostly extant, with its beautiful courtyard and a small 19 m high spiral minaret. It was built by Caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 860 AD as a smaller version of the Great Mosque and its Spiral minaret.

  • Al-Ma'shouq (the Beloved) Palace - Located on the east bank of Tigris about 10 km to the north west of Samarra. A large brick-built palace laying on a high platform, with arches supporting the roof. A spiral path leads to the palace chambers, which are ornamented with clay arabesques. On the exterior are arches and pillars stuck to the walls.This palace, sometimes called Al-Ashiq (the Lover) Palace, was built in 889 AD by Caliph Al-Mu'tamid, the last ruled in Samarra, before leaving to Baghdad.


Samarra Archaeological City is the site of a powerful Islamic capital city that ruled over the provinces of the Abbasid Empire extending from Tunisia to Central Asia for a century. Located on both sides of the River Tigris 130 km north of Baghdad, the length of the site from north to south is 41.5 km; its width varying from 8 km to 4 km. It testifies to the architectural and artistic innovations that developed there and spread to the other regions of the Islamic world and beyond. The 9th-century Great Mosque and its spiral minaret are among the numerous remarkable architectural monuments of the site, 80% of which remain to be excavated.


The ancient capital of Samarra dating from 836-892 provides outstanding evidence of the Abbasid Caliphate which was the major Islamic empire of the period, extending from Tunisia to Central Asia.  It is the only surviving Islamic capital that retains its original plan, architecture and arts, such as mosaics and carvings.  Samarra has the best preserved plan of an ancient large city, being abandoned relatively early and so avoiding the constant rebuilding of longer lasting cities.


Samarra was the second capital of the Abbasid Caliphate after Baghdad.  Following the loss of the monuments of Baghdad, Samarra represents the only physical trace of the Caliphate at its height.


The city preserves two of the largest mosques (Al-Malwiya and Abu Dulaf) and the most unusual minarets, as well as the largest palaces in the Islamic world (the Caliphal Palace Qasr al-Khalifa, al-Ja'fari, al Ma'shuq, and others).  Carved stucco known as the Samarra style was developed there and spread to other parts of the Islamic world at that time.  A new type of ceramic known as Lustre Ware was also developed in Samarra, imitating utensils made of precious metals such as gold and silver.


Criterion (ii):  Samarra represents a distinguished architectural stage in the Abbasid period by virtue of its mosques, its development, the planning of its streets and basins, its architectural decoration, and its ceramic industries.


Criterion (iii):  Samarra is the finest preserved example of the architecture and city planning of the Abbasid Caliphate, extending from Tunisia to Central Asia, and one of the world's great powers of that period.  The physical remains of this empire are usually poorly preserved since they are frequently built of unfired brick and reusable bricks.


Criterion (iv):  The buildings of Samarra represent a new artistic concept in Islamic architecture in the Malwiya and Abu Dulaf mosques, in the form of a unique example in the planning, capacity and construction of Islamic mosques by comparison with those which preceded and succeeded it.  In their large dimensions and unique minarets, these mosques demonstrate the pride and political and religious strength that correspond with the strength and pride of the empire at that time. 


Since the war in Iraq commenced in 2003, this property has been occupied by multi-national forces that use it as a theatre for military operations.


The conditions of integrity and authenticity appear to have been met, to the extent evaluation is possible without a technical mission of assessment.  After abandonment by the Caliphate, occupation continued in a few areas near the nucleus of the modern city but most of the remaining area was left untouched until the early 20th century.  The archaeological site is partially preserved, with losses caused mainly by ploughing and cultivation, minor in comparison with other major sites.  Restoration work has been in accordance with international standards.


The boundaries of the core and buffer zones appear to be both realistic and adequate. Prior to current hostilities, the State Party protected the site from intrusions, whether farming or urban, under the Archaeological Law.  Protective procedures have been in abeyance since 2003 and the principal risk to the property arises from the inability of the responsible authorities to exercise control over the management and conservation of the site.

  • Karbala is reputed to be the city where Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was martyred (his body but not head is buried there, and is known as Mashhad Husayn). Karbala is also the site of two important Shiite mosques, Al Abbass Mosque and Imam Hussain Mosque. Shiites observe a 40 day mourning period for this Imam every spring followed by a pilgrimage to this site.

  • Najaf is the site of Ali ibn Abi Talib's tomb known to Shiites as "the wondrous place of martyrdom" and site of one of the world's largest and most important Muslim cemeteries. Najaf is also the site of Imam Ali Mosque one of the holiest Shi'ite mosques.

  • Samarra is the site of Shiite Al Askari Mosque.

  • Kadhimiya (north of Baghdad) is regarded as a holy city in Shia Islam. Musa al-Kazim and his grandson, the ninth Shia Imam, Muhammad at-Taqi are both buried there, and their tombs are contained in the Al Kadhimiya Mosque. Shia go on an annual pilgrimage to this shrine in rajab

  • List of mosques and shrines in Iraq -

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