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062. Samarra
Shrine of Imam al-Hadi &
Imam al-Askari

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.

The most significant sites in and around Samarra include:

Shrine of Imam al-Hadi & Imam al-Askari (The "Golden Dome")

Variant names: Shrine of the Tenth Imam Ali al-Hadi (Ali al Hadi, al-Naqi, al Naqi) and Eleventh Imam Hasan al-Askari (Hassan al Askari, al-Askary, Askary), Mausolea of the 10th and 11th Shi'ite Imams, Golden Dome of Samarra, Ali al-Hadi Mosque

Location: Samarra, city center.

Dates: Hammadid, Buyid, Abbasid and Qajar periods; original structure 9-10th century, rebuilt 11th century, rebuilt again 12th century, rebuilt again 19th century.

The Archent Digital Library describes the Shrine of Imam al-Hai & Imam al-Askari (The "Golden Dome") at Samarra in the following manner: "The tenth and eleventh Imams of the Shi'ite faith, Ali al-Hadi (d. 868) and his son Hasan al-Askari (d. 874) were buried in their house on Abi Ahmad Street, near the mosque of Caliph al-Muta'sim. Also buried under the dome are Hakimah Khatoon, sister of Imam Ali al Naqi, and Nargis Khatoon, the mother of Imam al-Mahdi. The shrine centered on their tombs was first developed in 944-45 (333 A.H.) by Hamdanid ruler Nasir al-Dawla (929-967), and by the succeeding Buyid dynasty. The town of Samarra subsequently gained importance as a center of pilgrimage.

The plan of the shrine is centered on the tombs of the imams in a square tomb chamber, approximately fifteen meters square, topped by the iconic golden dome. At the center of each wall of the tomb chamber is a door that leads to a hallway that surrounds the four sides of the central space. Each side of the inner walls of the hallway has two niches that flank each door leading into the central tomb chamber. Each side of the outer walls of the hallway has four equidistant niches, two flanking each door. The south door of the tomb chamber is on axis with the portal of the shrine. The shrine is centered along the north wall of an arcade that encloses a courtyard around it on its east, west and south sides. A large portal centered into the south outer wall of the complex is on axis with the portal of the shrine and the tombs within, and marks the entrance into the courtyard.

The large pointed arch portal recess is set in the center of the south elevation, which is shaded by a grand covered portico (added at a later date) that is supported by ten slender white columns. The central section of the tripartite portico is raised higher to accommodate the large shrine portal. The pointed arch door is set in the center of the back wall of a deep recess that is approximately twice the height of the door itself. A blue tiled inscription band wraps the three-sided recess above the door.

Two minarets at the corners of the southern elevation add emphasis on the façade facing Mecca. These identical minarets are thirty-six meters high and were originally decorated with a spiral motif (visible in early photographs), but they were redecorated during an early twentieth-century reconstruction, close in time to the construction of the gold dome. The current dome, most recently damaged in a bomb attack in February 2006, was built in the 1905 reconstruction. It rests on a cylindrical drum punctured by equidistant large pointed arch windows. The sixty-eight meter high pointed dome is also sixty-eight meters in circumference and was covered with 72,000 gold pieces.

This holy shrine has been rebuilt multiple times, including two major renovations in 1053-54 (445 A.H.) by military leader Arslan al-Basasiri and in 1209-10 (606 A.H.) by Abbasid Caliph Al-Nasir li-Din Allah, who is commemorated by an inscription in the sirdab of the adjoining shrine of twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. In 1868-69 (1285 A.H.), the shrine complex was renovated by Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah."

Source: ArchNet

Durring the Saddam era, the shrine was damaged in various reprisal actions after the 1991 Gulf War.

On February 22, 2006, the Golden Dome and much of the underlying stucture was destroyed in an deliberate bomb attack perpetrated by Sunni Muslim extremists with links to al-Qaida. The bombing triggered dozens of reprisal attacks, sectarian killings of hundreds of Iraqi civilians across the country and bombings of dozens of Sunni and Shi'a mosques in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. An estimated 20,000 families also have been displaced because of the violence. Fifteen months after the first bombing, the two minarets in front of the ruined al-Askari Shrine were toppled in a second bomb attack on June 13, 2007.

On June 26, 2007, it was announced that one of the Samarra mosque bombers, Yusri Fakhir Muhammad Ali (aka Abu Qudama, a member of Al-Qaeda in Iraq) was arrested in Al-Dulu'iyah, north of Baghdad, after a firefight between Iraqi forces and insurgents. Ali, who confessed to participating in the Samarra bombing, said the Al-Qaeda lieutenant who conceived the attack on the Golden Mosque is identified as Haitham Sabah Shakir Muhammad al-Badri. According to Ali, the reason for the February 2006 and June 2007 attacks on the Samarra was to help promote violence between Shi'a and Sunnis. "The shrines of the Al-Askari imams were chosen because of their religious importance and their geographical location, and the choice was meant to cause sectarian division among the people," he said. On July 7, 2007 the Iraq government announced that Yusri Fakhir Muhammad Ali had been hanged.

  34° 11' 54.9600"   
  34.1986º N
  43° 52' 24.6000"   
  43.8735º E

GoogleEarth satellite view
of the Shrine of Imam al-Hadi
& Imam al-Askari before the
February 2006 bombing
(external resource)