al-Sulaybiyya is a domed octagonal pavilion at Samarra in Iraq. Scholars have
dated the building to the last quarter of the ninth century/third century AH
based on the material used to build it: a sort of artificial stone made from
clay also used in the nearby Qasr al-‘Ashiq, dated to the reign of Abbasid
caliph al-Mu‘tamid (870-892). Although the building eventually served as a
monumental burial site for three unidentified people, the original function of
the structure is still ambiguous. The building as it stands today is the
product of restoration and rebuilding after an archaeological investigation in
is situated in what was once a zone of palaces and gardens on the west bank of
the Tigris, northwest of what was the Abbasid city.
At the center
of the building is a square domed chamber whose outer walls are beveled to form
an octagon. This central room is surrounded by an ambulatory whose outer walls
are also octagonal. The square chamber had four openings, one in each side. The
exterior walls of the octagonal ambulatory communicating with the outside have
one arched opening in each face. The central square chamber was sparsely
decorated, with blind niches flanking each of its four openings. An octagonal
transition zone with squinches supported a dome over this room.
in the 1970s revealed that the octagonal pavilion in turn sits on a platform
that extended 5 meters from the outer edge of the pavilion and was raised 2.5
meters above ground level. Four broad ramps gave access to the platform. Under
the platform, a series of chambers seem to have provided storage.
burials were uncovered in the central square chamber. Ernst Herzfeld, who first
excavated the building, interpreted it as the mausoleum of three Abbasid
caliphs. Thomas Leisten, who published the final report of Herzfeld’s
excavation, disagreed, suggesting that it began as a garden pavilion and was
later repurposed as a tomb. Alastair Northedge offered a second
interpretation of the building as a model of the Ka’aba, based on a passage in the
tenth-century geographer al-Muqaddasi’s description of the city that mentioned
such a monument.
Excavation of Samarra, 78.
Excavation of Samarra, 74.
Excavation of Samarra,76-7.
Northedge, “Qubbat al-Sulaybiyya.”
Ernst Herzfeld, DieGeschichte der Stadt Samarra, Hamburg, 1948.
Thomas Leisten. Architektur für Töte: Bestatigung in architektonischem Kontext in den Kernländern der islamischen Welt zwischen 3./9. und 6./12. Jahrhundert, 252-3. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1998.
Thomas Leisten, Excavation of Samarra. Volume 1: Architecture. Final Report on the First Campaign, 72-8. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, 2003.
Northedge, Alastair. "The Qubbat al-Ṣulaybiyya and its Interpretation,” in Sifting Sands, Reading Signs: Studies in honour of Professor Géza Fehérvári, ed. Patricia L. Baker and Barbara Brend, 71-82. London: Furnace Publishing, 2006.
March 9, 2020 (AKDC Staff): updated data (added alternate names, edited construction date to "ca. last quarter 9th/3rd c. AH" based on new sources); edited description; added new references.
Brentjes, Burchard. "City, house and grave." City, House and Grave: Symbolism in Central and South Asian Architecture. Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre, edited by Attilo Petruccioli, 3-6. Rome: Libreria Herder, 1984.
Essay in Environmental Design, a journal dedicated to promoting and coordinating higher studies and research in the field of architecture, and urban and rural planning pertaining to the Islamic world.