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011. Baghdad -
Al-Kadhimayn Mosque and Shrine

The capital of Iraq and of the Baghdad Governorate, Baghdad is the largest city in Iraq, the second-largest city in the Arab world (after Cairo) and the second-largest city in SW Asia (after Tehran). Located on the Tigris River, the city dates back to pre-Islamic times. Read a synopsis of the city's history here.

Most of the important historical landmarks in or near Baghdad are named after past political or religious figures (Sunni or Shi'a) or are associated with events in history of the city or the history of Islam that can make these monuments high-value targets.

Monuments standing as of 07/04/07:

Al-Kadhimayn Mosque and Shrine

This site is known by two similar sets of names: Al-Kadhimain Mosque, Al-Kadhimeyya, Imam Al-Kadum Mosque; and Al-Kazimiyya Shrine, Mashhad al-Kazimiyya (al-Kazimiyya, al-Kazimiyyah, al-Kazimain, Kazimiya, Kazimiyyah, Kazimain), Mausolea of Imams Musa 'l-Kazim and Muhammad Jawad

Location: Al Kadhimayn district, a northern neighborhood, west of the Tigris five kilometers from the city center of Baghdad

Date: original shrine, 799 AD, rebuilt during the Safavid period; rebuilt again in 1515, Ottomon period


Before the construction of Baghdad, the predecessor to the current Al-Kadhimeyya Shrine was known as Shoneezi, an Arab name meaning the Black Grain. When the Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja'far Al-Mansour started the construction of the Round City of Baghdad in 762 A.D. (145 AH), he made that area a cemetery named the Qureish cemeteries; containing the bodies of his family. Imam Musa bin Ja'far who died in 799 AD and was buried in this cemetery was known as Al-Kadhim, which means "the person whom can control and suppress his anger." A generation later, his grandson, Imam Mohammad Al-Jawad who died in 834 AD was buried there as well. Both are considerred direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad).

Kadhimain Shrine was constructed on the site of the shrines of the two Imams in 1515 AD. It is a world famous shrine and one of the most important mosques in the Islamic world, with a huge gilded dome on a circular drum, four minarets rising above its courtyard all coated with gold, Kufic inscriptions, canopied balconies, glinting mirror mosaics, lustrously glazed tiles, and floors of marble and galleries decorated with ceramic tiles covered with geometric engravings and Qur'anic verses.

On March 2-3, 2004, three simultaneous explosions rocked both the interior and outside of the al-Kadhimain shrine. The site remains a significant target.

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The Archnet Digital Library describes Al-Kazimiyyah Shrine in the following manner: "Before the foundation of Baghdad site of the Kazimiyyah shrine was the Shunayziyyah cemetery. After the establishment of Baghdad, al-Mansur used this cemetery as the burial ground for the caliph's family. In 799 Imam Musa, the seventh imam, died and was buried at the actual spot of the shrine. The shrine then became a pilgrimage site for the Shi'ite community, a status later reinforced by the subsequent burial in 835 of the ninth Imam who died in Baghdad.

The building as it stands today comprises an enclosure that houses the mausoleum of the two imams, and a mosque. The northern and southern sides measure of 131.2 meters while the eastern and western sides span 124 meters. The courtyard walls are constituted of small rooms opening onto the courtyard through pointed arches. Several doors puncture the enclosure among which: Bab al-Farhadiyyah including the Fatihah; Bab al-Mural and Bab el-Qibla in the southern enclosure wall facing the mausoleum.

The mausoleum is framed on three sides by tall tarimahs (an Iranian design found in palaces and shrines that composes a portico with a ceiling supported by thin wooden columns with a taller central part). The western tarimah called Tarimah Quraysh is 37 meters long and 6.5 meters wide. The eastern tarimah, 49 meters by 5.2 meters has its ceiling decorated with epigraphical texts and geometric motifs. The southern tarimah, on the qibla wall, measures 47.2 meters by 6 meters and is decorated with mirror mosaics.

The tomb chamber, situated in the middle of the rawdah (inner part of the sanctuary building), is composed of two related square spaces paved with marble slabs and covered with two domes. The walls display marble slabs running up to 1.4 meters, above which runs a line of Quranic inscription. In the middle of this inner room and below the two domes lie the two sarcophagi. An ambulatory composed of four riwaqs is decorated consistently with the rawdahs described above. It has six entrances displaying silver and golden decorations; they lead to the rawdahs. Six clerestory windows illuminate the inner rawdah.

Between the northern enclosure wall and the sanctuary itself stands a mosque consisting of a large hypostyle prayer hall with a low dome at its southern end distinguishing it from the two over the tomb chamber.

The Kazimiyyah shrine has seen several reconstructions and modifications. What comes to us is a Safavid building with some intrusions of local architecture sometimes derived from Ottoman decoration.

Under the Buwaihid Shi'ite dynasty, several restoration and addition works were executed. Abd ud-Dawlah first restored the sanctuary after the flood of 978 according to a contemporary description of the structure, the two tombs were described as topped by wooden domes and surrounded by an enclosure. In 1052 the building was described as having a large dome in the middle and minarets on the sides. Several restorations followed in 1097, 1159 and 1154. At that time the sanctuary was used as a madrasa and an orphanage.

During the Abbasid caliphate of al-Zahir the dome caught fire and was restored by al-Mustansir. From that time on the shrine was called al Maqbarah al Jadidah meaning the new tomb. It acquired greater significance as it was considered one of Baghdad's principal monuments from the thirteenth century onward. It is described as having a large dome, a library and an orphanage. The sanctuary was preceded by a wide courtyard probably surrounded by rooms and a façade with a large iwan similar to other Seljuq monuments of that same period. It was sufficiently damaged during the Mongol invasion and its first reconstruction dates back to Imad al-Din al-Qazwini. Ibn Battuta describes it in the fourteenth century as having a big enclosure and the tombs being of wood with a silver coating. In 1356, a second flood caused big damages to the shrine. It was then restored according to the previous plan layout with two minarets domes that are probably quite close in design to its current form.

In 1508 when the Safavid Shah Ismail entered the city he ordered a total reconstruction of the shrine. The rawdah was enlarged, marble was laid on the floor of the shrine, the sarcophagi were rebuilt of wood, and a Quranic inscription was carved on the outer walls. The minarets were increased to four in number in a way to resemble mosques of that period. One of the major changes to the overall site plan was the building of a mosque on the northern side of the shrine.

During the Ottoman period, when Suleiman the magnificent entered Baghdad in 1534, he decided to continue the works started by the Safavids: the northern minaret was thus completed in 1570. Baghdad was conquered in 1623 by the Safavid Shah Abbas who ordered the reconstruction of the shrine that suffered some damage during the Safavid expansion.

The corner minarets were in a later period completed by Aqa Muhammad al-Qadjari and a large courtyard that stands until the present date faces the haram. Muhammad Shah and Shah Fath Ali ordered the decoration of the domes and walls of the rawdah and the pinnacles of the four minarets from material made available from the sanctuary of Imam Hussain in Kerbala.

In 1864, when Shah Nassir ordered new restoration works to be carried on the complex the kashi tile decoration of the façade was added; the two tarimah before the haram on the southern and eastern sides had their walls covered with marble; and the eastern tarimah covered by a flat roof standing on twenty-two wooden columns was completed. In later years, he sponsored several other restorations and decoration works such as: the golden decoration on the iwan in the middle of the eastern tarimah; the silver applied on door between the rawdah and the southern riwaq; the second storey above the sahn galleries; and the laying of foundations for two clock towers on the eastern and southern sides. These works ended in 1884 and the expenses are said to have reached 200, 000 Ottoman liras.

In 1902-3 the mirror decoration in the southern and eastern riwaqs was completed and for the following six years the design was altered by the same decoration on the northern and western riwaqs. The last works carried out in the sanctuary were on the western tarimah that displays twenty columns and is decorated with mirror and floral motifs.

The Kazimiyyah shrine is now situated in a western neighborhood of Baghdad known as al-Karkh. In 1970 it was included in the master plan for the city of Baghdad that involved a rehabilitation project aiming to clear slums around the shrine to create spaces for gardens, landscaped squares, and to provide sites for public buildings. Demolition started in 1980 to the north and west part of the shrine. A mosque, baths and some fine houses were destroyed and in the cleared area new bazaars were built."

Source: ArchNet

See also: Strika V., Khalil J. The Islamic Architecture of Baghdad, Instituto Universitario Orientale, Napoli, 1987, pages 3-14.


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Brief History of Baghdad: The city of Baghdad is often said to have been founded on the west bank of the Tigris on 30 July 762 by the Abbasid dynasty, led by caliph al-Mansur; however, a city of Baghdad is mentioned in various pre-Islamic texts, including the Talmud, and the Abbasid city we know today was likely built on the site of this earlier settlement. The city's name is a Middle Persian compound: Bhaga "god" + dād "given", translating to "god-given" or "God's gift".

As it grew, Baghdad quickly outshone Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire [located 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the southeast], which had been under Muslim control since 637 and was eventually deserted in favor of Baghdad, just as Babylon, which lies some 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the south, had been deserted during the 2nd century BC.

The city of Baghdad was designed as a circle approximately two kilometers in diameter, later known as the "Round City". The original plan shows a ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring, inside the first. In the center of the city lay the mosque, as well as headquarters for guards. The purpose or use of the remaining space in the center is unknown. The circular design of the city was a direct reflection of the traditional Persian Sasanian urban design. The ancient Sasanian city of Gur/Firouzabad is nearly identical in its general circular design, radiating avenues, and government buildings and temples situated at the center of the city. The two designers hired by al-Mansur to plan the city were Naubakht, a former Persian Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city would be astrologically auspicious, and Mashallah, a Jew from Khorasan, Iran.

Center of Learning (8th - 9th c.). Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad became a hub of learning and commerce and principal engine behind the Islamic Golden Age. The House of Wisdom was an establishment dedicated to the translation of Greek, Middle Persian and Syriac works. The Barmakids were influential in bringing scholars from the nearby Academy of Gundishapur, facilitating the introduction of Greek and Indian science into the Arabic world. Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation until the 930s, when its only possible rival was Córdova. Various estimates suggest that the city contained more than a million inhabitants at this time. Many of Scheherazade's tales in "One Thousand and One Nights" are set in Baghdad during this period.

Stagnation and Invasion (10th to 16th c.). By the 10th century, Baghdad's early meteoric growth slowed due to troubles within the Caliphate, including relocations of the capital to Samarra (during 808–819 and 836–892), the loss of the western and easternmost provinces, and periods of political domination by the Iranian Buwayhids (945–1055) and Seljuk Turks (1055–1135). Even so, the Baghdad remained one of the cultural and commercial hubs of the Islamic world until February 10, 1258, the day that Hulagu Khan and his Mongol army invaded and sacked the city. The Mongols killed or scattered most of the city's inhabitants, including the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim, and destroyed large sections of the city, including the canals and dykes that comprised the city's irrigation system. The sack of Baghdad put an end to the Abbasid Caliphate — a blow from which the Islamic civilization never fully recovered — and placed the city under the rule of the. the Il-Khanids, the Mongol emperors in Iran. Sacked again by Timur ("Tamerlane") in 1401, Baghdad became a provincial capital controlled by the Jalayirid (1400–1411), Qara Quyunlu (1411–1469), Aq Quyunlu (1469–1508), and Safavid (1508–1534) dynasties.

Ottoman Baghdad (16th to 19th c.). In 1534, Baghdad was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Under the Ottomans, Baghdad fell into a period of decline, partially as a result of the enmity between its rulers and Persia. For a time, Baghdad had been the largest city in the Middle East before being overtaken by Constantinople in the 16th century.

Modern Baghdad (20th c.).
 The city remained under Ottoman control until the establishment of the kingdom of Iraq by the British in 1921. British control was maintained by systematic suppression of Iraqi Arab and Kurdish national aspirations until 1932, when Iraq was given formal independence and increased autonomy in 1946. Not until 1958 did the Iraqi Army final depose the grandson of the British-installed monarch, Faisal II. A subsequent coup in 1968 brought the revolutionary Ba'ath Party to power and, with it, a new face that transformed the city of Baghdad for better and for worse: Saddam Hussein. During the early 1970s, serving as vice president under the ailing General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam spearheaded Iraq's nationaliztion fo the Western-owned Iraq Petroleum Company, which had long held a monopoly on the country's oil. As a result, Baghdad experienced a brief period of prosperity and growth fueled the sharp increase in oil revenue; at the same time, Saddam cemented his authority over the armed forced and the government. Baghdad fell on hard times during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and declined even further in the aftermath of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the Desert Storm Campaign, and the imposition of a no-fly zone over most of the country, followed by ten years of UN sanctions. Baghdad's transportation, power, sanitary infrastructure and cultural monuments suffered. And as the flow of illicit artifacts (cunieform tablets, cylinder seals, aramaic bowls, etc.) out of Iraq bound for dealers and collectors in the West indicated, the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq escalated during the 1990s, despite the fact that perpetrators who were caught faced probable execution.

2003 - Operation Iraqi Freedom. Baghdad was bombed during March and April during the initial phase of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As the city fell under US control between April 7 and April 9, widespread looting began. The Iraq National Museum was looted (April 10-13) of more than 15,000 artifacts (some 7,000 remain unaccounted for) and the National Archive was burned, destroying thousands of ancient manuscripts. The Coalition Provisional Authority established a three-square-mile (eight-square -kilometer) "Green Zone" within the heart of the city from which it governed Iraq until a new Iraqi government bould be established. The CPA ceded power to the interim government and dissolved itself at the end of June 2004. Meanwhile, the city's cultural monuments, included its many ancient mosques and madrasas, have been targeted by insurgents or suffered collateral damage or been used for military purposes such as bomb making, thus exposing these sites to constant peril.

As turmoil in the city continues, all reasonable steps must be taken to protect Baghdad's historical monuments and archaeological, religious and cultural sites.



  33° 19' 30.00"
  33.324999971° N
  44° 25′ 19.2″
  44.422° E

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Additional photos of the
Al-Kazimiyya Shrine at ArchNet