The Great Mosque of Samarra is located in Samarra city, in Iraq, about 120 km north of Baghdad, on the banks of river Tigris. It was built in the 9th century, commissioned by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil, who moved to Samarra to escape conflict with the local population in Baghdad and remained there for the next 56 years - a period during which he built many palaces including the largest mosque in all of Islam. The Great Mosque was spread over an area of 17 hectares; the building itself covered 38,000 square meters. It remained the largest mosque in the world for the next 400 years before it was destroyed by the armies of the Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan during the invasion of Iraq in the year 1278. The outer walls and the imposing 52-meters minaret is all that remains of this once Great Mosque.
The mosque has a rectangular layout encompassed by an outer baked brick wall 10 meters high and 2.65 meters thick and supported by a total of 44 semi-circular towers including four corner ones. One could enter the mosque through one of the 16 gates. It has been told 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 mosque had 17 aisles, and its walls were paneled with mosaics of dark blue glass. The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by an arcade, the greatest part of which was the one facing Holy Mecca.
27 meters from the center of the mosque's north face stands the Malwiya Tower with its vast spiraling cone 52 meters high and 33 meters wide at the base. At the top of the tower rests a round vestibule, which is adorned with eight pointed-arched niches. It is possible to walk all the way to the top along the spiraling path. As a matter of fact, the caliph Al-Mutawakkil, often did that riding on his donkey to enjoy the view.
The minaret was partially destroyed in April 2005, when insurgents bombed the tower because U.S. troops had been using it as a lookout position. The British claim that the attacked was directed not towards the U.S. but had been done to incite Sunni-Shiite violence and further destabilize the country.
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