Al-Mutawakkil 'Ala Allah was the tenth Abbasid caliph and son of al-Mu'tasim Bi'llah, the founder of Samarra. Politically, he caused tremors at court by ousting the establishment of his predecessors and renouncing the theological doctrine of Mu'tazilism that they had supported. Although Mutawakkil was a strong-willed ruler, his reign ended early with his assassination at the hands of his son and several officials in the military.
Mutawakkil is known to architectural historians for his many commissions. In addition to rebuilding the Congregational Mosque of Samarra, he constructed several palaces and founded a new imperial city to the north of Samarra that he named Mutawakkiliyya. Notably, it was at Mutawakkil's court that poets such as 'Ali ibn Jahm and Buhturi flourished and produced a series of fantastic poems describing the palatine architecture of Samarra.1 His prolific building activities earned him a negative reputation among later Muslim historians who characterize him as overly ambitious and frivolous, and attribute numerous palaces to him.2Undoubtedly, the vivid descriptions of the palaces by the poets he supported kindled the imaginations of these later authors.
See Julie Scott-Meisami, "The Palace-Complex as Emblem: Some Samarran Qasidas," in Robinson, ed., A Medieval Islamic City Reconsidered, 69-78.
For example, Abu Mansur al-Tha'alibi, Adab al-muluk, edited by Jalil al-'Atiyya (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1990), 114-115.
Between 859/245 AH and 861/247 AH, the Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil relocated the court from Samarra to a new settlement that he
named al-Mutawakkiliyya, located to the north of the original city founded
under Mu'tasim. Within the new city he constructed a congregational mosque
known locally as Jami' Abi Dulaf (Abu Dulaf Mosque). The mosque resembles Mutawakkil's congregational mosque in Samarra in several important ways
although it is not an exact replica.
The mosque stands toward what was the center of Mutawakkiliyya,
west of its main arterial avenue that led through the town toward the palace,
located at the city’s northern edge.
Similar to the congregational mosque at Samarra, the Mosque of Abu
Dulaf consists of a large rectangular building constructed exclusively of baked
brick with a central courtyard and hypostyle prayer hall. Surrounding this
building is an outer enclosure or ziyada. The ziyada measures 350 x 362 meters
and the rectangular courtyard building 213 x 135 meters. Its minaret also recalls
the Samarra mosque in its spiraling form and position on the north side of the
The walls of the mosque building remain partly standing, mostly on
the northern side. Forty semicircular towers support the outer wall of the
mosque, including four at the corners. Traversing the ziyada, visitors to the
mosque could enter through a number of gates on any the mosque’s east, north,
and west sides. The two long sides (east and west) each have six entrance gates
whereas the north side has three.
A large rectangular courtyard occupies the center of the mosque
building. Surrounding the courtyard on all sides are arcades (riwaqs) resting of
piers built of baked brick. The north side is three aisles deep, the east and
west sides are two aisles deep, and the prayer hall on the south side is seven
aisles deep. Notably, the prayer hall features a broader central nave and two aisles
nearest the qibla wall distinguished by wider piers.
Behind the mihrab is a structure consisting of a central room
flanked by four iwans and side chambers. This structure was most likely a rest
house for the caliph, who traditionally entered the mosque from behind the
qibla directly onto the prayer hall.
The minaret includes a spiral ramp rising from a square base
adorned with small recesses on each side. Later excavations show that
surrounding the minaret was a court with blind arcades like the ones on the
socle. This court featured two cisterns.
Excavation work executed in the 1940s by the Iraqi Department of
Antiquities provides evidence of a double riwaq that extended from the main
walls of the mosque off the northern façade and parts of the eastern and western
ones, for increasing crowds at Friday prayer.
al-'Amid, Tahir Muzaffar. The 'Abbasid Architecture of Samarra in the Reign of both al-Mu'tasim and al-Mutawakkil, 209-43. Baghdad: al-Ma'aref Press, 1973.
Creswell, K. A. C. A Short Account of Early
Muslim Architecture. Edited and revised by James W. Allan, 367-373. Aldershot:
Scholar Press, 1989.
Leisten, Thomas. Excavation of Samarra, Volume I:
Architecture. Final Report of the First Campaign, 1910 – 1912. Mainz am
Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, 2003.
Northedge, Alastair, and Derek Kennet. Archaeological
Atlas of Samarra, 1: 155. 3 vols. London: British School of Archaeology in