Mosul is Iraq's third largest city, with approximately 665,000 inhabitants as of 1987. It is situated close to 400 kilometers north of Baghdad on the west bank of Tigris, in the Diar Rabi'a region, close to the ruined Assyrian city of Nineveh. Though the population of Mosul is principally Kurdish, Mosul is home to other minority groups, including Aramaic-speaking Christian Assyrians, and to a lesser extent, Turcomans. The city has been described as 'the pearl of the north.' Once a walled city, remains of the original fortifications still stand along the Bash Tapia castle, on the western bank of the Tigris.
Mosul is the only major city east of Euphrates built primarily of stone and brick. It includes an extensive use of marble, especially in columns, door and window frames. Specialized masonry techniques, like the carving on marble with bitumen filling, were introduced to the city from Damascus during the reign of Nur al-Din. Its buildings and monuments were partially built with re-used elements from Roman temples and early Christian churches.
In approximately 850 BCE, King Assubanipal II of Assyria chose the city of Nimrud to establish his capital, where present day Mosul is located. Around 700 BCE, King Sennacherib made Nineveh the new capital of Assyria. Mosul later succeeded Nineveh as the Tigris bridgehead of the road that linked Syria and Anatolia with Persia. By the eighth century, Mosul had become the principal city of northern Mesopotamia.
The city was an important trade center in the Abbasid era, because of its strategic position on the caravan route between India, Persia and the Mediterranean. In 1127, Mosul became the capital of the Zangid dynasty until 1224, when it was sacked by the newly prominent local Badr al-Din Lu'lu'. During Badr al-Din Lu'lu''s reign, the city reached its apogee, and was widely known for its textile and metalwork.
The city is also recognized for its abundance of shrines, dedicated to religious figures like Jonah, St. Georges, and several Shi'ite Imams. A distinguishing feature of these shrines is the dome, which appears a simple, conical or pyramidal form from the outside, but reveal exquisite muqarnas ornamentation from the inside. These forms spread beyond shrines, and were adopted by many local churches. Several decorative patterns and techniques that formed in Mosul also spread into the greater Muslim world, including brick decoration, and marble mosaic work.
In the thirteenth century, Mosul was nearly destroyed by Mongol invasion. It was not until 1534, when the Ottomans took control over Mosul, that the city was rebuilt, and transformed into the region's commercial and administrative center. Mosul declined after the opening of the Suez Canal, but was revived with the discovery and development of petroleum reserves in the area in the 1920s.
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Ettinghausen, Richard and Oleg Grabar. The Art and Architecture of Islam. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1994.
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Al-Tabbaa, Yasser Ahmad. The Architectural Patronage of Nur al-Din, (1146-1174). New York : New York University, University Microfilms International, 1982.
The Minaret of Mosul's Nur al-Din Mosque was constructed in 1170-2 by Nur al-Din Zangi and is the only component from the complex, which included a prayer hall and madrasa, that survives intact in its original form today. It is famous not only for its exuberant brick decoration but also its pronounced lean which has earned it the affectionate nickname al-hadba' ("the hunchback") among the residents of Mosul.
The brick minaret lies in the northwestern corner of the mosque courtyard. It is built on a tapered stone cubical base 15.5 meters high and 8.8 meters deep. Its four sides have different decoration patterns. The north, south and eastern sides can be grouped, having stepped squares motifs placed on their edges; they are framed by a six pointed stars band; whereas the western side is decorated with a central medallion with geometric and vegetal motifs, a field and border very similar to carpet designs. The center is occupied by an eight-sided star, surrounded by eight five-sided stars. The field is filled with patterns similar to the ones of the three other sides of the cube but here the squares are larger and filled with smaller ones. The border of the western panel consists of hexagons filled with arabesque interlaces. An arcaded door on the eastern side of the square, define the entrance point to the minaret. The tapered cylindrical brick shaft, 45 meters high, leaning eastward, has a circular plan that rests on the square base. It is decorated with seven bands of different brick motifs separated with six thin friezes some of which display hazarbaf detailing (brick ornament which is part of the surface, not just applied to it). The balcony sits on metallic consoles supporting the slab and the metallic balustrade. The balcony dates from 1925 when it was repaired after its destruction in 1796 by lightning. The spire is made of simple brickwork topped with rope motif just below the dome ending.
This minaret demonstrates the impact of Iranian architecture in both construction and decoration where hazar-baf is known from as early as the first half of the eleventh century. This type of minaret construction and decoration with a square base is considered to be a typical feature of the later Abbasid minaret constructions and remains in the architectural vocabulary of Iran and Afghanistan.
It was reported that on July 26, 2014, the minaret damaged by explosives in an attempt to fully decimate the structure. On June 21, 2017, it was reported that the minaret and mosque were destroyed in an explosion.1