Samarra ( ar|سَامَرَّاء, ') is a city in Iraq
. It stands on the east bank of the Tigris
in the Saladin Governorate
, north of Baghdad
. In 2003 the city had an estimated population of 348,700. During the Iraqi Civil War
, Samarra was in the "Sunni Triangle
" of violence.
In the medieval
times, Samarra was the capital
of the Abbasid Caliphate
and is the only remaining Islamic capital that retains its original plan, architecture and artistic relics. In 2007, UNESCO
named Samarra one of its World Heritage Site
The remains of prehistoric
Samarra were first excavated between 1911 and 1914 by the German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld
. Samarra became the type site
for the Samarra culture
. Since 1946, the notebooks, letters, unpublished excavation reports and photographs have been in the Freer Gallery of Art
in Washington, D.C.
The civilization flourished alongside the Ubaid period
, as one of the first town states in the Near East
. It lasted from 5,500 BCE and eventually collapsed in 3,900 BCE.
A city of Sur-marrati (refounded by Sennacherib
in 690 BC according to a stele
in the Walters Art Museum
) is insecurely identified with a fortified Assyria
n site of Assyrian at al-Huwaysh on the Tigris opposite modern Samarra. The State Archives of Assyria Online identifies ''Surimarrat'' as the modern site of Samarra.
Ancient place names for Samarra noted by the Samarra Archaeological Survey are Greek ''Souma'' (Ptolemy
III, 30), Latin ''Sumere'', a fort mentioned during the retreat of the army of Julian
in 363 AD (Ammianus Marcellinus
XXV, 6, 4), and Syriac ''Sumra'' (Hoffmann, ''Auszüge'', 188; Michael the Syrian
, III, 88), described as a village.
The possibility of a larger population was offered by the opening of the Qatul al-Kisrawi, the northern extension of the Nahrawan Canal
which drew water from the Tigris
in the region of Samarra, attributed by Yaqut al-Hamawi
(''Muʿjam'', see under "Qatul") to Khosrau I
(531–578). To celebrate the completion of this project, a commemorative tower (modern Burj al-Qa'im) was built at the southern inlet south of Samarra, and a palace with a "paradise" or walled hunting park was constructed at the northern inlet (modern Nahr ar-Rasasi) near ad-Dawr
. A supplementary canal, the Qatul Abi al-Jund, excavated by the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid
, was commemorated by a planned city laid out in the form of a regular octagon (modern Husn al-Qadisiyya), called al-Mubarak and abandoned unfinished in 796.
Image:Female Statuette Halaf Culture 6000-5100 BCE.jpg|Female statuette, Samarra, 6000 BC
File:Samarra bowl.jpg|The Samarra bowl at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. The swastika in the center of the design is a reconstruction.
File:Chinese sancai sherd 9th 10th century found in Samarra.jpg|Chinese-made sancai pottery shard, 9th–10th century, found in Samarra, an example of Chinese influences on Islamic pottery. British Museum.
In 836 CE
, the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mu'tasim
founded a new capital at the banks of the Tigris. Here he built extensive palace complexes surrounded by garrison settlements for his guards, mostly drawn from Central Asia
(most famously the Turks
, as well as the Khurasani ''Ishtakhaniyya
'' and ''Ushrusaniyya
'' regiments) or North Africa (like the ''Maghariba
''). Although quite often called Mamluk
slave soldiers, their status was quite elevated; some of their commanders bore Sogdian titles of nobility.
The city was further developed under Caliph al-Mutawakkil
, who sponsored the construction of lavish palace complexes, such as al-Mutawakkiliyya, and the Great Mosque of Samarra
with its famous spiral minaret
or Malwiya, built in 847. For his son al-Mu'tazz
he built the large palace Bulkuwara.
Samarra remained the residence of the caliph until 892, when al-Mu'tadid
eventually returned to Baghdad. The city declined but maintained a mint until the early 10th century.
The Nestorian patriarch Sargis
(860–72) moved the patriarchal seat of the Church of the East
from Baghdad to Samarra, and one or two of his immediate successors may also have sat in Samarra so as to be close to the seat of power.
During the long decline of the Abbasid empire, Samarra was largely abandoned starting in AD 940. Its population returned to Baghdad and the city rapidly declined. Its field of ruins is the only world metropolis of late antiquity which is available for serious archaeology.
The city is also home to al-Askari Shrine
, containing the mausolea of the Imam
s Ali al-Hadi
and Hasan al-Askari
, the tenth and eleventh Shiʿi Imams
, respectively, as well as the place from where Muhammad al-Mahdi
, known as the "Hidden Imam", reportedly went into The Occultation
in the belief of the Twelver
. This has made it an important pilgrimage centre for the Imami Shias. In addition, Hakimah and Narjis
, female relatives of the Prophet Muhammad
and the Imams, held in high esteem by Muslims, are buried there, making this mosque one of the most significant sites of worship.
In the eighteenth century, one of the most violent battles of the 1730–1735 Ottoman–Persian War
, the Battle of Samarra
, took place, where over 50,000 Turks and Persians became casualties. The engagement decided the fate of Ottoman Iraq and kept it under Istanbul's suzerainty until the First World War.
During the 20th century, Samarra gained new importance when a permanent lake, Lake Tharthar
, was created through the construction of the Samarra Barrage
, which was built in order to prevent the frequent flooding of Baghdad. Many local people were displaced by the dam, resulting in an increase in Samarra's population.
Samarra is a key city in Saladin Governorate, a major part of the so-called Sunni Triangle
where insurgents were active during the Iraq War
Though Samarra is famous for its Shi'i holy sites, including the tombs of several Shi'i Imams, the town was traditionally and until very recently, dominated by Sunni Arabs. Tensions arose between Sunnis and the Shi'a during the Iraq War. On February 22, 2006, the golden dome of the al-Askari Mosque
, setting off a period of rioting and reprisal attacks across the country which claimed hundreds of lives. No organization claimed responsibility for the bombing. On June 13, 2007, insurgents attacked the mosque
again and destroyed the two minaret
s that flanked the dome's ruins.
On July 12, 2007, the clock tower was blown up. No fatalities were reported. Shiʿi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
called for peaceful demonstrations and three days of mourning.
He stated that he believed no Sunni Arab
could have been behind the attack, though according to the ''New York Times'' the attackers were likely Sunnis linked to Al-Qaeda.
The mosque compound and minarets had been closed since the 2006 bombing. An indefinite curfew was placed on the city by the Iraqi police.
Ever since the end of Iraqi civil war in 2007, the Shia population of the holy city has increased exponentially. However, violence has continued, with bombings taking place in 2011
. In June 2014, the city was attacked by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL) as part of the Northern Iraq offensive
. ISIL forces captured the municipality building and university, but were later repulsed.
Samarra has a hot desert climate
(Köppen climate classification
''BWh''). Most rain falls in the winter. The average annual temperature in Samarra is . About of precipitation falls annually.
In popular culture
The metaphor of "Having an appointment in Samarra", signifying death, is a literary reference to an ancient Babylonian myth recorded in the Babylonian Talmud
and transcribed by W. Somerset Maugham
, in which Death narrates a man's futile attempt to escape him by fleeing from Baghdad to Samarra. The story "The Appointment in Samarra" subsequently formed the germ of a novel of the same name
by John O'Hara
[John O'Hara, ''Appointment in Samarra'', Harcourt, Brace & Co., . L., "The Destined Hour" in ''From Many Times and Lands'' (London, 1953); reprinted in ''Every Poem Tells a Story: A Collection of Stories in Verse'', ed. Raymond Wilson (London, 1988; / 0-670-82086-5).]
The story is told in "The Six Thatchers
", a 2017 episode of ''Sherlock
* List of places in Iraq
* De la Vaissière, Étienne (2007): ''Samarcande et Samarra. Élites d’Asie central dans l’empire abbaside'' (Studia Iranica, Cahier 35), Paris.
* Northedge, Alastair (2005): ''The historical topography of Samarra'', London.
* Robinson, Chase (ed.) (2001): ''A Medieval Islamic City Reconsidered: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Samarra'' (Oxford Studies in Islamic Art 14). Oxford.
Ernst Herzfeld Papers, Series 7: Records of Samarra Expeditions, 1906–1945
Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Washington, D.C.
Ernst Herzfeld Papers, Series 7: Records of Samarra Expeditions, 1906–1945
Collections Search Center, S.I.R.I.S., Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Destruction of Askari MosqueSamarra on Google Earth
Category:Archaeological sites in Iraq
Category:Archaeological type sites
Category:Capitals of caliphates
Category:Cities in Iraq
Category:District capitals of Iraq
Category:Populated places in Saladin Governorate
Category:Populated places on the Tigris River
Category:Shia holy cities
Category:World Heritage Sites in Danger
Category:World Heritage Sites in Iraq