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023. Baghdad -
Zumurrud Khatun Mosque and Tomb

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:

Zumurrud Khatun Mosque and Tomb

Variant Names (Mosque): Al-Khaffafin Mosque, Masjid al-Haza'ir, Mosque al Khaffafin

Variant Names (Tomb): Sitt Zubaydah Tomb, Tomb of Sitt Zubaida Turba, Mausoleum of Zumurrud Khatun

Location: (Tomb) in a large cemetery in central Baghdad, west side of the Tigris; (Mosque) in eastern Baghdad close to the Tigris and the Mustansiriya Madrasa.

Builder/Patron: Zumurrud Khatun
Date: circa 1193, Abbasid period

The Archnet Digital Library describes Baghdad's Zumurrud Khatun Mosque and Tomb in the following manner: "The Mosque of Zumurrud Khatun is located in central Baghdad near the Mustansiriya Madrasa. It was built by Zumurrud Khatun, the mother of Caliph al-Nasr li-Dinillah and wife of Caliph Harun al-Rashid prior to her death in 1202. Her tomb is found in the al-Karkh district of western Baghdad.

The more famous Tomb is located in an expansive cemetery in the center of Baghdad on the west side of the Tigris. The brick tomb — a nine-layered, cone-shaped muqarnas cover capped by a small cupola — rises to great height from an octagonal base, similar to the Imam Dur in Samarra.

Today, the tomb is entered from a square-planned, domed structure that was built to replace an earlier one. From this area, a staircase rises up to the base of the muqarnas dome while a tight corridor just over one meter large leads to the octagonal burial chamber. The light inside the vault emanates from small holes cut in the muqarnas dome producing a glowing effect. The mausoleum has been restored periodically throughout its lifespan.

The mosque is part of a rectangular compound oriented along the northeast-southwest axis. The compound is entered from three ornate portals in a passageway from a half-demolished souk that adjoins to the northeast, and consists of a mosque, tomb, library, the imam's house and ablution and privy cells surrounding an L-shaped courtyard. An inscriptive plaque above the central portal commemorates a restoration by a certain Ibrahim in 1923 (1342 A.H.). The compound was also restored in 1590 (999 A.H.) by Cigalazade Sinan Pasha and in 1969 by the Iraqi Directorate of Waqfs.

Located at the southern corner of the compound facing the entrance, the mosque is three bays wide and two bays deep, with by a four-bay portico. The wide pointed arches of the portico are carried on brick piers and support a flat roof from the 1969 restoration. Two doors lead from the portico into the mosque. Inside, each of the six bays is crowned with a dome carried on pendentives; the three inner domes are taller and larger. The interior, which is dominated by two heavy piers supporting the domes, is illuminated by two tiers of windows along the qibla wall. To the right of the main entrance, a set of stairs embedded into an engaged pier lead up to the muezzin's lodge above the entryway. The five-sided mihrab niche and the lower sections of the piers are decorated with floral tiles. Tile decoration of the stone minbar was largely removed during renovations.

Because the mosque was used primarily by members of the Hanafi group, a large domed room, known as the Shafai Masjid, was added to its northwest to accommodate Shafai members. It is adjoined by the Shafai Madrasa, a small vaulted room entered from a deep iwan with an elaborate umbrella vault. Next to it, occupying the western corner of the courtyard is a small chamber preceded by an open passageway that holds the tomb of Ismail bin Kazim. On the other side of the mosque, lined along the southeastern courtyard wall, are three rooms of varying sizes that were used by the imam and housed the mosque library. Privy chambers and an ablution hall were added at a later date to the northwest side of the courtyard.

The mosque minaret, which was built earlier by the Seljuks in the twelth century, is considered to be the oldest in Baghdad. It rises between the Shafai Masjid and the mosque portico and has a single balcony carried on a muqarnas console. Blue and turquoise glazed bricks have been used to decorate the balcony parapet and the domical crown."

Source: ArchNet

See also: Strika V., Khalil J. 1987. The Islamic Architecture of Baghdad. Napoli: Instituto Universitario Orientale, 60-61.

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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 nationalization 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

Baghdad Map
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Additional photos of the
Zumurrud Khatun Tomb are
available at Archnet.