In 836 the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tasim moved the capital from Baghdad to Samarra. He commissioned builders and craftsmen from throughout the empire to build his new city. On the shores of the Tigris River, he constructed his palace, the Dar al-Khilafa, also known as the Jawsaq al-Khaqani. It integrates elaborate gardens, baths, residential suites, courtyards, and audience halls into a sizeable walled complex.
Located in front of the palace at the water's edge is a large water basin measuring 127 square meters. From it, an incline with either a ramp or a flight of stairs stretches up to the main gate, the Bab al-Amma. Constructed in baked brick, its triple arched façade composed of three liwans creates a monumental presence. The central liwan is larger than the two side ones. These side liwans connect exclusively to chambers with tunnel-vaulted ceilings that were probably used for cavalry guards during public processions happening in the central liwan. A doorway to the rear of the central liwan leads into six halls, which then opened into a courtyard with a fountain. Off of this court to the north, are the Caliph's private chambers. To the south was the haram with residential quarters complete with piped water, washing rooms, and latrines all organized around a smaller courtyard. A bath also extends directly off the main court.
Proceeding straight ahead from this central area, one enters the Court of Honor off of which was the Throne Room. The Throne Room includes a domed chamber with four halls arranged in a cruciform pattern around it. The halls are each organized into three aisles, the central one is the widest. Smaller rooms decorated with marble-tiled dadoes expand between them. Continuing on the central axis from the eastern wing of the Throne Room is another hall featuring five gateways that proceeded into the Great Esplanade. This grand court measures approximately 350 by 180 meters and frames two fountains and a series of canals. Beyond this area stretches the eastern-most section of the compound, the Little Serdab. Its entrance consists of a small chamber with a fountain that leads down into an eight-meter deep depression hewn into the rock. Each wall of the serdab contains three small caverns communicating with each other through narrow passageways. North of the Great Esplanade is another larger serdab. Like at Manqura, Dar al-Khilafa also includes grounds and a lodge for polo sport.
Constructed in baked and unbaked brick, the Dar al-Khilafa is widely recognized for its elaborate ornamentation of stucco and marble dadoes, frescoed paintings, and the finest sculpted and painted teak woodworking. Ernst Herzfeld's original watercolors of the wall painting fragments excavated at the site can be seen among the Ernst Herzfeld Papers collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a royal complex, the Dar al-Khilafa represents a new building typology, previously unknown in Islam.
Sources: Creswell, K. A. C., and James W. Allan. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1989. 332-39.
Ettinghausen, Richard, and Oleg Grabar. The Art and Architecture of Islam. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1987. 82-86.