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063. Samarra
— Sulaybiya Mausoleum

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:

Sulaybiya Mausoleum

Variant Name: Qubbat al-Sulaybiyya.

Date: 862 AD

The Archnet Digital Library describes Sulaybiya Mausoleum at Samarra in the following manner: "In 862, the Greek mother of Abbasid Caliph al-Muntasir built a mausoleum on a hill site on the western shore of the Tigris River to honor his death. Such a building tradition was previously unknown in Islamic history. Just 18 meters wide, constructed in a stone-like material consisting of clay and quartz, what remains of the mausoleum is octagonal in shape with three zones to the structure: an outer octagon (almost half destroyed), an inner octagon, and a central, square chamber measuring about 6.3 square meters, that through the use of squinches is modeled into an octagonal hall.

A vaulted walkway with sixteen transverse arches runs between the two outer octagons.  Each façade of the outermost wall features an arched doorway whereas there were only four entrances, designed on a cardinal axis, to the inner domed sanctuary. Small semicircular alcoves adorn the other four faces of this area. The Qubbat as-Sulaibiya also contains the tombs of the succeeding caliphs, al-Mu'tazz and al-Muhtadi. It is the only building of its type in the Middle East to use an octagonal hallway."

Following restoration by the Iraq Directorate of Antiquities in the 1970s, further excavations revealed an open outer platform with four ramps."

Source: ArchNet

See: Ettinghausen, Richard and Grabar, Oleg. 1987. The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 101.



  34° 13' 40.4400"
  34.2279° N
  43° 47' 56.7599"  
  43.7991° E

GoogleEarth satellite image
of Sulaybiya Mausoluem
(external resource)