Essential Architecture-  Iraq

Great (or al-Mutawakkil) Mosque


Client Al-Mutawakkil






Islamic Abbasid




  Plan and Isometric reconstruction
The Mosque of the Caliph al Moutawakkel ala Llah is considered as the outstanding monument of the city of Samarra, and it still occupies the major position as far as splendour, architectural exactitude, and beauty are concerned, among all ancient mosques in the Islamic world, as it remained intact despite the human and natural destructions throughout the centuries.

Samarra is the city where aspects of the Abbassid dynasty's civilizational style are most apparent. The city was founded in the north of Baghdad, by orders of the Caliph Moatassem in the year 221 in Hegira year, 836 A.D. It remained the capital of the caliphate and the Abbassid empire for more than 50 years during which 7 Caliphs tried to make of it a city comparable to Baghdad as far as constructions and monuments are concerned. The main monuments of Samarra are the great Samarra Mosque and Abu Dalaf Mosque, that is set 50 km to the north of the city.

The Caliph al Moutawakkel ala Allah ordered the construction of the Samraa Mosque, from 234- 237 in Hegira year, 849- 852 A.D. It has a rectangular shape (240 meters by 158 meters) and it can gather up to 80,000 faithful. The plan of the Moutawakkel Mosque is the same as that of Bassrah, Koufa, and Wasset Mosques, composed of a prayer room, two side aisles and a rear part surrounding a rectangular nave, where there was a fountain with a round shape, composed of a single peace of granite stone that is said was brought from Egypt then transferred to the Sharabiya school in Baghdad.

The Moutawakkel mosque is characterized with its winding minaret that is one of the oldest monumental minarets of Iraq, and is unique among the minarets of the Islamic world with its design. Erected 27 miles up from the northern wall of the mosque, it is located on the central axis of its mihrab. As for the body of the minaret, it has a spiral shape, and stands on a double-decked square basis. The lower one is 31.80 m and the upper 30.50 m. This base is 4.20 m above earth level. It is decorated with pointed-knot curbs, nine in each side except in the southern side where there are only seven as the remaining two are covered by the sloping stairs leading to the base. The most wonderful thing in the upper part of this minaret is a row of 8 mihrab pendant lamps which crown the Mosque's body. Their knots are propped up by compact semi-cylindrical brick pillars. The minaret is about 50 m high except the base, which distinguishes it as a unique model among the old and new mosque minarets of the Islamic world.
Al-Mutawakkil commissioned the construction of the Great Mosque of Samarra upon his succession to the Abbasid caliphate in the mid-ninth century. While the outer wall still stands, little remains of the interior of the mosque today. This sizable rectangular structure measured approximately 38,000 square meters and was encompassed by an outer baked brick wall supported by a total of forty-four semi-circular towers including four corner ones. In its time, it was the world's largest mosque. One could enter the mosque through one of sixteen gates. It has been posited that featured over each entrance were several small arched windows. Between each tower, a frieze of sunken square niches with beveled frames runs the upper course of the entire structure. The outer wall included twenty-eight windows with twenty-four of them being on the southern face, one for each of the aisles in the inner sanctuary with the exception of the one with the mihrab. The roof of the mosque was supported by twenty-four rows of nine piers in the sanctuary, three rows of nine piers again in the riwaq to the north, and each side having twenty-two rows of four piers. A rectangular mihrab with two marble columns on each side could be found positioned in the southern wall of the mosque. Claims have been made that the Great Mosque of Samarra could be compared to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus as glass mosaics were pervasive throughout the site. Aerial photographs provide evidence that an expansive enclosed field measuring 376 x 444 meters (approximately 17 hectares) surrounded the mosque with a brick wall. This area is known as a ziyada, a widespread feature of Congregational mosques during this period. Within this ziyada was a smaller one that only encompassed the mosque on its north, west, and east sides.

Directly 27.25 meters from the center of the mosque's north face stands the Minaret al-Malwiya, approximately 55 meters high. Although round in shape, this minaret is influenced by a specific type of Mesopotamian ziggurat, square-planned and featuring stairs or an incline on the exterior of its fa├žade while rotating several times until reaching the crown. The base or socle of the minaret measures thirty-three square meters and rises to a height of almost three meters. It supports a spiral ramp that winds counterclockwise five times up the minaret beginning on the side closest to the mosque. At the top of the tower rests a round vestibule, which is adorned with eight pointed-arched niches.


Creswell, K. A. C.1989. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Rev. ed. Allan, James W. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 358-365.

Ettinghausen, Richard and Grabar, Oleg. 1987. The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 86-88.


Special thanks to the Islamic architecture website