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056. Samarra
Balkuwara Palace

Salah ad-Din Governorate. About 60 miles north of Baghdad, on the Tigris. Often called the largest archaeological site in the world, Samarra stretches more than 40 kilometers along the Tigris. The region dates from the Samarra period (5600-5000 BC) at nearby sites Tell es-Sawwan and Choga Mami and also became a major urban center under the Abbasid caliphate (9th century AD).

In 836 AD the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu't, wishing to escape conflict with the local population in Baghdad, moved to Samarra, which remained the seat of power for the Abbasids for next 56 years, a period during which the largest mosque in all of Islam was built at Samarra. The city served as home for eight successive caliphs until 892, when the capital was moved back to Baghdad.

While all of Samarra can be considered an archaeological treasure, these monuments stand out in particular:

Balkuwara Palace

Also known as: Manqur Palace. In an isolated area on the east bank of the Tigris six kilometers south of Samarra.

Client/Patron: Caliph al-Mutawakki
Date: Abbassid period, 849-859 AD

The Archnet Digital Library describes the Balkuwara Palace at Samarra in the following manner: "The Balkuwara Palace was constructed between 849-859 AD on the east side of the Tigris River, six kilometers south of Samarra, by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil for Prince al Mu'tazz . Now in ruins, the palace was massive, including three courtyards, nine halls, residential suites, mosques, and quarters for infantrymen in a fortressed complex measuring approximately 1,250 meters per side and 15 meters in height. The palace occupied the southern half of a complex surrounded by private houses each containing sixteen rooms around a central courtyard. The northern part of the complex was composed of two central courts and accommodations for 12,000-man standing army, including a polo field, bazaars, baths, and small mosques.

Balkuwara would have been a magnificent experience from both its interior and exterior as this sizeable palace is composed on a strong linear axis with its most prominent section (the Throne Room) positioned on the highest elevated area of the site. A court and garden encompassed by a wall supported by pilasters stretches in front of the palace along the river.

Overlooking this area, the palace's façade features a triple arcade with the central arch rising over the two side ones. It is adorned with green glass and mother-of-pearl mosaic over a gold background. This entrance leads into a group of four public audience halls organized in a cross around a central, square chamber. This cruciform pattern is influenced from the region known today as eastern Iran. Square-shaped suites of eight rooms ordered around small courtyards extend between these halls.

Emanating from the Throne Rooms to the northeast on the central vertical axis are the Courts of Honor, a series of three courts each boasting monumental entrances. Standing at the main entrance of the compound this progression of gates commands attention to the axiality of the site design.

The predominant building material at the site is brick, baked and raw, with doors made of the finest lumber. Conventional for the times, vaulting was the established method for the ceilings. Decoration at the compound varies between stucco-work, frescoes, colored glass windows and niches sometimes, square, circular or quatrefoil. As a royal palace, Balkuwara represents a new building typology, previously unknown in Islamic building tradition."

Source: ArchNet



  34° 8' 8.8800"  
  34.1358° N
  43° 53' 18.6000"
  43.8885° E

GoogleEarth satellite view of Balkuwara Palace
(external resource)