Great Mosque of Samarra – Samarra, Iraq - Atlas Obscura

Great Mosque of Samarra

Samarra, Iraq

9th century Abbasid mosque, damaged in modern warfare. 


Spiraling up from the ground, the remaining minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra is the the most prominent of the remaining structures of a mosque that was once the largest in the world.

Known as the malwiya or the snail shell minaret, this 180 foot tower was the main focal point of the mosque, that covered 42 acres at its peak. In the mid-9th century, the great work was commissioned by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil who allegedly rode a white donkey up the spiraling paths to the top.

Over time, the mosque was slowly destroyed and fell into disuse by the 11th century. However, it’s memory was always preserved in the malwiya minaret that towered over Samarra. The pillar was given something of a new life during the war in Iraq, as US troops used it for observation. Sadly, in 2005, the famous minaret was partially destroyed during a bombing raid by insurgents. After 1000 years of proudly standing in the medieval Abbasid capital, it finally began to crumble under the firepower of modern weaponry.

Conflicting stories exist as to why the tower was attacked. Some claim the attack was directed against US forces, while others such as Tony Blair assert that the bombing was carried out to instigate secular warfare. If the latter is true, the lifespan of the minaret could be dramatically shortened given the uncertain and unstable political situation in Iraq.

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