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Minaret at Samarra, 847 AD

Minaret at Samarra, 847 AD

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.

See earlier buildings in Damascus
Medieval Islamic architecture
All our Islamic Empire articles

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

At Samarra, the caliph Al-Mutawakkil built a great mosque in 847 AD.

What is a mosque?
What is a minaret?

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.

Hear the call to prayer

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.

The Great Mosque at Kairouan

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.

What is a mosaic?
When was glass invented?

Sunnis against Shiites

This was a Sunni mosque. The point was to overshadow the Shiite mosques that were already in Iraq.

Who are Sunnis and Shiites?

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.

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