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The two Shiite mosques in Samarra
The two Shiite mosques in Samarra

Sāmarrā (سامراء) is a town in Iraq. It stands on the east bank of the Tigris in the province of Salah ad Din, 125 km north of Baghdad and, in 2002, had a population of some 201,700.


Ancient Samara

Samarra was one of the largest Mesopotamian cities of ancient times.

Abbasid Capital

In 836 the caliphate's Turkic and Armenian slave soldiers -known as ghilman- agitated the citizens of Baghdad, provoking riots. The capital was moved to the new city of Samarra later that year by,

During this time the original pre-Islamic settlement was replaced with a new city established in 833 by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mu'tasim. Samara would remain the capital of the Muslim world until 892 when it was returned to Baghdad by al-Mu'tamid. Al-Mu'tasim's sucessor, al-Wathiq, developed Samara into a commercial city, and it was further developed under Caliph Al-Mutawakkil.

A soldier descends a Minaret in Samarra, Iraq.
A soldier descends a Minaret in Samarra, Iraq.

The latter sponsored the construction of the Great Mosque of Samarra with its unique spiral minaret, built in 847. He also laid out parks and a palace for his son Al-Mu'tazz. Under the rule of Al-Mu'tadid, the Abbassid capital was shifted back to Baghdad and Samarra entered a prolonged decline, which accelerated after the 13th century when the course of the Tigris shifted.

Religious Significance

The city is also home to the mausoleums of the Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari, the tenth and eleventh Shia Imams, respectively, as well as the shrine of Muhammad al-Mahdi, known as the "Hidden Imam", who was the twelfth and final Imam of the Shia. This has made it an important pilgrimage centre for Shia Muslims.

Modern Era

During the 20th century, Samarra gained new importance when a lake was created near the town by damming the river in order to end the frequent flooding of Baghdad downstream. Many local people were displaced by the dam, resulting in a big increase in Samarra's population.

See also

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