City in central Iraq with about 200,000 inhabitants (2002 estimate). Samarra lies on the east bank of the Tigris River.
Samarra is a trade centre of its region. There is some industry and small crafts, as well as local administration.
While Samarra today is a modest regional centre, it was the capital of the Muslim world for 56 years in the 9th century, when the Abbasid caliphate was moved here from Baghdad. At the most, the royal palaces and gardens stretched out for a distance of 30 km along the river.
The most prominent remains of this past is the famous Great Friday Mosque from 852 with the unique spiral minaret. This mosque itself is predominantly in ruins, with only the outer walls standing. The plan of the mosque is 240 times 160 metres, i.e. more than 38,000 m². The walls are about 10 metres high, 2.65 metres thick and supported by 44 towers. An ambitious restoration process began in the late 1990’s, aiming at rebuilding the columns and eventually the roof.
The spiral minaret, “Malwiya” in Arabic, is a separate structure from the main congregation hall, 27 metres north of the main hall. It is 52 metres high, and 33 metres in diameter. It is easily entered by a staircase spiralling up on the outside of the round walls. At the summit, the staircase penetrates the structure for the first time, giving access to a flat platform on the top, about 3.5 metres wide. It is believed by many that the minaret was built about 15 years before the main structure.
About 22 km south of Samarra lies a replica of the Great Friday Mosque, the Abu Duluf Mosque. The main hall is almost as big, 215 times 138 metres, but the minaret, once again spiral is only 19 metres high.
Samarra holds the remains of the Caliph’s residence. It used to be 700 metres long, along the Tigris river, but today only 3 huge gates towards the river stand. According to the stories, the Caliph sat in these gates to hear complaints and suggestions from his subjects.
Samarra holds the tomb of two imams, the 10th, Ali al-Hadi and the 11th, Hassan al-Askari. They are placed in the same sanctuary, a structure that closely resembles the ones of Karbala and Najaf. In addition to the two imams, there two other tombs of prominent female Muslims.
The second shrine of Samarra is meant to indicate where the 12th imam went into concealment. The shrine is quite different from the other Shi’i shrines of Iraq, as it doesn’t have a golden dome, but one covered with blue tiles. Underneath the dome there is a cellar, said to be the last place the 12th imam dwelled.
836: Caliph al-Mu’tasim buys the land of a Christian monastery, and builds a military camp here. He gives it the name “surra man ra’a” (English: “he who sees it, rejoices”), a pun based upon the nearby town of Samarra. It is turned into the new residence of the Caliph, after he is pressured to move from Baghdad. This made it the capital of the entire Muslim world, which by now extended from Spain in the west to India in the east.
852: The Great Friday Mosque is inaugurated, being the largest mosque of its time.
892: The Caliph moves back to Baghdad, and Samarra loses most of its importance.
1905: The golden dome of the sanctuary of the two imams is completed.
2006 February 22: The shrine and mosque of the two imams, Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, is destroyed in a bomb explosion. Immediate reactions suggest that militant Sunni groups are behind.