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047. Mosul - Minaret of the Great Mosque of
Nur al-Din and Mosque al-Nuri

Ninawa Governorate. Mosul, occupying both banks of the Tigris River, some 396 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Baghdad, has been continuously inhabited for at least 8,000 years by a succession of Assyrians, Persians, Parthians, Abbassids and Ottomans. While the entire city can be considered an archaeological treasure, these monuments stand out in particular:

Minaret of the Great Mosque of Nur al-Din (Al-Habda Minaret)

Builder/Patron: Abu'l Qasim al-Malik al-'Adil Nur al-Din
                      Mahmud ben Zangi (known as Nur al-Din)
Date(s):          1170-1172
Period/Style:    Zangid


The Archnet Digital Library describes the Minaret of the Great Mosque at Nur al-Din in the following manner: "The Minaret of the Great Mosque at Mosul, known locally as Al-Hadba, is attributed to Nur al-Din al-Zangi Atabeg of Damascus, who occupied Mosul in 1170 after taking control from his brother Saif el Din Ghazi bin Qutb al-Din al Zingi.

The minaret was built as part of a complex composed of a mosque and a madrasa all named after the patron. The madrasa, which was known as Madrasat al Jami' al-Nuri, and the mosque itself known as Jami' al-Nuri were destroyed in 1942 as part of rennovation project orchestrated by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities. These restoration works consisted of destroying the old mosque and rebuilding it with old and new material according to a total new plan. All that remains from this complex are the impressive minaret, two mihrabs, an inscribed marble slab, and some stucco decoration.

It would appear, as Herzfeld states, that what remained standing until 1942, was not thr sole construction of Nur al-Din but the result of expansion and embellishment works carried out by Nur al-Din on an earlier mosque built by Sayf al-Din Ghazi I in 1148 which has also been built over an earlier Islamic shrine. The validity of this statement has been contested as early as 1949 by Diwaji, a Mosulite writer referring to the text of Ibn al-Athir who gained the information from his father, a high official in the court of the first Zangids of Mosul.

The brick minaret lies in the northwestern corner of the mosque courtyard. It is built on a tapered stone cubical base 15.5 meters high and 8.8 meters deep. Its four sides have different decoration patterns. The north, south and eastern sides can be grouped, having stepped squares motifs placed on their edges; they are framed by a six pointed stars band; whereas the western side is decorated with a central medallion with geometric and vegetal motifs, a field and border very similar to carpet designs. The center is occupied by an eight-sided star, surrounded by eight five-sided stars. The field is filled with patterns similar to the ones of the three other sides of the cube but here the squares are larger and filled with smaller ones. The border of the western panel consists of hexagons filled with arabesque interlaces. An arcaded door on the eastern side of the square, define the entrance point to the minaret. The tapered cylindrical brick shaft, 45 meters high, leaning eastward, has a circular plan that rests on the square base. It is decorated with seven bands of different brick motifs separated with six thin friezes some of which display hazarbaf detailing (brick ornament which is part of the surface, not just applied to it). The balcony sits on metallic consoles supporting the slab and the metallic balustrade. The balcony dates from 1925 when it was repaired after its destruction in 1796 by lightning. The spire is made of simple brickwork topped with rope motif just below the dome ending.

This minaret demonstrates the impact of Iranian architecture in both construction and decoration where hazar-baf is known from as early as the first half of the eleventh century. This type of minaret construction and decoration with a square base is considered to be a typical feature of the later Abbasid minaret constructions and remains in the architectural vocabulary of Iran and Afghanistan."

Source: ArchNet

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Brief History of Mosul. Built on the site of an earlier Assyrian fortress, Mosul succeeded Nineveh which was founded by the Assyrians as an outpost or citadel located on the right bank of the Tigris, across from the ancient city of Nineveh (now the town of Ninewa). In circa 850 BC, King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria chose the city of Nimrud to build his capital city where present day Mosul is located. In approximately 700 BC, King Sennacherib made Nineveh the new capital of Assyria. The mound of Kuyunjik in Mosul is the site of the palaces of King Sennacherib and his grandson Ashurbanipal. Probably built on the site of an earlier Assyrian fortress, Mosul later succeeded Nineveh as the Tigris bridgehead of the road that linked Syria and Anatolia with Persia. 

Mosul became a commercial center of the Persian Empire in the 6th c. BC. It became part of the Seleucid Empire after Alexander's conquests in 332 BC before being re-taken by the Parthians in 224 BC. The city changed hands once again with the rise of Sassanid Persia in 225 AD before falling to Muslim rule in 637 AD during the period of the Muslim Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, Utba bin Farqad Al-Salami was the leader of the Muslims Army that conquered the city. It was promoted to the status of capital of Mesopotamia under the Umayyads in the 8th century, during which it reached a peak of prosperity.

During the Abbassid era Mosul was an important trading center because of its strategic location, astride the trade routes to India, Persia and the Mediterranean. In 1127 it became the centre of power of the Zengid dynasty. Saladin besieged the city unsuccessfully in 1182 but in the 13th century it was conquered and destroyed by the Mongols; although it was later rebuilt under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and remained important, it did not regain its earlier grandeur. It remained under Ottoman control until 1918.

The city is a historic center for Christian Assyrians, containing the tombs of several Old Testament prophets such as Jonah, who is commemorated in a rare joint Muslim/Christian shrine (originally a Nestorian church, now a mosque).


  36° 22′ 0″ 
  36.3433° N
  43° 7′ 0″   
  43.1266° E

GoogleEarth Satellite Image
of the Great Mosque of Nur
al-Din and Minaret in Mosul (external resource)

July 2003 photo of the Minaret at the Great Mosque of Nur al-Din at Mosul