Architecture of the Abbasid Caliphate - Islamic Empire
Welcome to Study Guides!

Abbasid architecture

Samarra minaret
Minaret at Samarra, 847 AD

When the Abbasid dynasty moved the capital of the Islamic Empire to Baghdad from Damascus in 762 AD, of course they needed a lot of new buildings to make it beautiful. They did build a lot of lovely buildings. But because the modern city of Baghdad is right on top of the Abbasid city, there's not much left of medieval Baghdad for us to see.

At Samarra, the caliph Al-Mutawakkil built a great mosque in 847 AD. When it was built, the Great Mosque of Samarra was the largest mosque in the world. It was built out of baked brick. The picture here shows the minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra. The minaret is 52 meters high, and you get up to the top to give the call to prayer by climbing a long spiral ramp that goes all the way up to the top. The big mosque that went with this minaret is mostly destroyed today, but it was a lot like the earlier mosque at Kairouan, only bigger. It had a big open courtyard, with three rows of columns going around it, just like Kairouan, and a big covered prayer hall, with 17 aisles. Artists covered the walls of the prayer hall with glittering mosaics made of dark blue glass.

This was a Sunni mosque, and the point was to overshadow the Shiite mosques that were already in Iraq, to make the point that the Sunnis were in charge and not the Shiites. Right after he built this mosque at Samarra, the Abbasid caliph al-Muttawakkil destroyed the most holy Shiite mosque at Karbala.

Learn by doing: go to the beach and build a sand minaret as high as you can
Fatimid Architecture

Bibliography and further reading about the architecture of the Abbasid Caliphate:

Umayyad architecture
Fatimid architecture
More about Islamic architecture
Medieval Indian architecture
Medieval European architecture
More about Islam home

Celebrating Black History Month with the pharaoh Hatshepsut, the queen Shanakdakhete, the poet Phillis Wheatley, the medical consultant Onesimus, the freedom fighters Toussaint L'Ouverture, Denmark Vesey, Yaa Asantewaa, and Samora Moises Machel, and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Proud of your class page, homework page, or resource page? Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Cool stuff we've been enjoying: Looking for birthday gifts? Check out these new Chromebooks - all the computer you need for only $229.00!. Then study in peace with these Beats wireless headphones - for the exact same price! When you're done, show off your presentation or watch a movie with this excellent smartphone projector for only $39.99!

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
ADVERTISEMENT is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 25 February, 2017