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Samarra (Iraq)
Coordinates 34 ° 12 ′  N , 43 ° 52 ′  E Coordinates: 34 ° 12 ′  N , 43 ° 52 ′  E
Country IraqIraq Iraq
Governorate Salah ad-Din
Basic data
height 80  m
Residents 158,968 (2005)
Spiral minaret of the great mosque of Samarra
Spiral minaret of the great mosque of Samarra

Samarra ( Arabic سامراء, DMG Sāmarrāʾ ) is a city in Iraq , north of Baghdad , with 158,968 inhabitants (as of January 1, 2005), archaeological site of British archaeologists and one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Shiites . The city is in the province of Salah ad-Din .



At the place of today's Samarra was once one of the largest cities of Mesopotamia, which was founded by the Sassanids . This pre-Islamic city (then only in ruins) was replaced by the current Samarra in 833 by the caliph al-Muʿtasim and, like large parts of the early Islamic city complex, was uncovered by Ernst Herzfeld between 1911 and 1914.

The historical name of the city is Surra Man Ra'a which means something like "Delighted who saw it". It was the eighth Caliph of the Abbasid al-Mu'tasim Billah , built for his Turcoman soldiers in his nine-year caliphate time and was 836-892 when Al Mutadid seat of government moved the capital back to Baghdad, the Abbasid empire.

Samarra as the residence of the caliphs

Al-Mu'tasim's successor, al-Wāthiq , developed Samarra into a trading center; the city on the upper Tigris experienced its heyday under Caliph al-Mutawakkil . The latter financed the construction of the Great Mosque of Samarra with its Malwiya in 847 and doubled the area of ​​the city. He also had parks laid out and a palace built for his son al-Muʿtazz . Although Samarra was only temporarily the residence of the Abbasid caliphs, the scientific achievements of this city are legendary in Islamic history to this day.

Recent history

From 1911 to 1913, the German ancient orientalist , archaeologist and inscription researcher Ernst Herzfeld and the German art historian Friedrich Sarre did research in Samarra and achieved international renown because they found 8000 year old (6th millennium BC) painted ceramic goods here, the so-called. Samarra goods . The archaeological finds of the German Samarra expedition, parts of which are now in the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, are to be documented in the international project samarrafinds and made accessible to a broader public.

Other objects from the excavations ended up in the British Museum , the Victoria and Albert Museum , the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, the collection of the French Archaeological Institute in Damascus, the Museum of Applied Arts in Copenhagen, the Louvre in Paris, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art . All excavation reports, drawings and photographs are now in the archives of the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC.

Samarra has been besieged since 2014 by the terrorist organization Islamic State , whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was born in Samarra. Several attempts to penetrate into the city failed due to the resistance of the Iraqi army. There were sometimes devastating terrorist attacks.

Culture and sights

Samarra still has ruins of numerous caliph's palaces and other buildings. The Great Mosque of Samarra received a spiral minaret that resembles an ancient Mesopotamian ziggurat . This famous Samarra minaret is to the east of the present-day city. The somewhat smaller and younger Abu Dulaf Mosque received a replica. In 2007, UNESCO declared the ruins and archaeological sites a World Heritage Site . At the same time, she entered it on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger .

Today's much smaller city of Samarra is located in the middle of the extensive ruins on the east bank of the Tigris, about 125 kilometers north of Baghdad.

Meaning for Shiites

Samarra is of great importance to Shiites because the tenth and eleventh Imam ʿAlī al-Hādī an-Naqī and Hasan al-ʿAskarī lived here for a long time and are also buried, and also the twelfth Imam Muhammad al-Mahdī has gone into hiding here should be. The caliph al-Mutawakkil had ʿAlī al-Hādī brought from Medina to Samarra in 848 in order to be able to better control him here. In 868 he died and was buried in his house. His son Hasan al-ʿAskarī lived here until his death in 874 and was buried next to his father.

The Al-Askari shrine , one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Shiites , was later built there where their graves and the graves of various relatives are located . The building was known for its golden dome from 1905, but it was destroyed in an attack by Sunni extremists on February 22, 2006. On June 13, 2007, the two remaining minarets were blown up in an attack.

A second shrine marks the place where Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi went into secrecy according to the Twelve Shiite imagination. The shrine has a dome and is known for its adornment with blue tiles, including the sardab ("cellar"), where the imam supposedly disappeared.



Around 70% of all men in the city between the ages of 18 and 35 were unemployed in 2003. The main reason for the high unemployment across the country was the precarious security situation.


Born in Samarra


  • Imranali Panjwani: The Shi'a of Samarra: the heritage and politics of a community in Iraq . London 2012.
  • A. Northedge: Art. "Sāmarrāʾ" in The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition Vol. VIII, pp. 1039a-1041a.

See also

Web links

Commons : Samarra  - collection of images, videos and audio files
  • Entry on the UNESCO World Heritage Center website ( English and French ).

Smithsonian Institution:

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Markus Hattstein: Islam Art and Architecture . Ed .: Markus Hattstein, Peter Delius. Könemann, 2005, ISBN 978-3-8331-6103-2 , pp. 102 .
  2. The archaeological finds from Samarra in Iraq
  3. The fate of the finds from Samarra ( Memento of November 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  5. UNESCO World Heritage Center: Samarra Archaeological City. Retrieved September 23, 2017 (English).
  6. See Northedge 1040b.
  7. Cf. on this the book by Panjwani.