History Of The Great Mosque Of Samarra

With more than a thousand years of history, the Great Mosque of Samarra, in Iraq, continues to be fascinated, especially by its size and its peculiar minaret.
History of the Great Mosque of Samarra

The Great Mosque of Samarra is also known as the Al-Mutawakkil Mosque, for that is the name of the caliph who ordered it to be built in the 9th century. And from that moment until the 13th century it became the largest mosque in the world. And although today we will find it very transformed, this is an essential visit in the Iraqi city of Samarra.

The dimensions of the Great Mosque of Samarra

Great Mosque of Samarra
Great Mosque of Samarra – Chris Hoare / Flickr.com

Since we have said that for 400 years this was the largest Muslim temple in the world, let’s start by talking about its current dimensions.

The mosque has a rectangular plan of approximately 450 x 375 meters. And if we look at it from the outside, it looks more like a fortress than a temple, since the entire enclosure is surrounded by a wall 10 meters high and more than 2.5 thick. As if that were not enough, these walls have 44 semicircular towers in their highest part.

All that construction houses the mosque itself, which had a huge prayer room organized in 25 naves oriented towards the wall of the qibla . There were 25 ships with a flat roof, which still makes it more noticeable that it is a space that is wider than it is long. And those ships would have more than 500 pillars to support their deck.

The Great Mosque of Samarra: yesterday and today

Great Mosque of Samarra
Great Mosque of Samarra – Gus Wallen / Flickr.com

The truth is that the history of this monument is as turbulent as that of its country, Iraq. For that reason, today the Great Mosque of Samarra keeps very little of its origins. But it is something that has not happened in recent times. Its transformation took place several centuries ago.

The Great Mosque of Samarra was built by Caliph Al-Mutawakkil  when he moved from Baghdad to Samarra, located about 120 kilometers from the current Iraqi capital. And so the temple was built between 848 and 852. It was then that this grandiose building was conceived, which stands out for the space between the sacred mosque and the profane territory.

However, that temple was practically destroyed in 1278, when it was razed by the Mongol invaders ruled by Hulagu Khan. And after that disaster it was never rebuilt as its origins are, and today only the external wall remains standing, as well as the curious spiral-shaped minaret.

The tower of the Great Mosque of Samarra

Samarra Mosque Tower
Mosque tower – Gladys Martínez López / Flickr.com

This tower has a height commensurate with the surface of the temple it accompanied, since it reaches 52 meters. Dimensions that make it stand out enormously in an environment as flat as the one that surrounds the ancient city of Samarra.

However, it is not his height that is most striking. What is really curious is its spiral shape. Just as the 44 towers of the walls have a square base and then take the semicircular shape, something similar happens with the minaret. At the bottom it has a square pedestal measuring 33 meters on a side, and from there it has its helical development.

Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia

This curious spiral shape links the construction with ancient Iraq, when these lands were known as Mesopotamia, where helical towers were very common. It should not be forgotten that Samarra is watered by the historic Tigris River, whose banks are considered one of the true cradles of our civilization.

Visit the Great Mosque of Samarra

Great Mosque of Samarra
Great Mosque of Samarra – David Stanley

Today, the brave who go sightseeing in Iraq, have as a milestone to know the vestiges of what was the Great Mosque of Samarra. There you can imagine a building that was magnificent in its time, and see a city that was plagued with palaces and mosques in the 9th century.

So you can reflect on what has and what has not reached our days in a territory like this. In fact, the tower was badly damaged quite recently. It happened during the Gulf War, when the US Army turned it into an observation post and, indirectly, a military target, which ended up causing damage, especially in its upper part.

Djenné and its wonderful mud mosque

Cover photo: David Stanley / Flickr.com

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