The Abbasids built Baghdad
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.
The mosque at Samarra
When it was built, the Great Mosque of Samarra was the largest mosque in the world. They built the mosque out of baked brick. The picture here shows the minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra. The minaret is 52 meters high. 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.
What was the Samarra mosque like?
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.
Sunnis against Shiites
This was a Sunni mosque. The point was to overshadow the Shiite mosques that were already in Iraq.
The Abbasid caliph al-Muttawakkil wanted to make the point that the Sunnis were in charge and not the Shiites. Right after he built this mosque at Samarra, he also destroyed the most holy Shiite mosque at Karbala.