Al-Mutawakkil commissioned the construction of the Great Mosque of Samarra upon his succession to the Abbasid caliphate in the mid-ninth century. While the outer wall still stands, little remains of the interior of the mosque today. This sizable rectangular structure measured approximately 38,000 square meters and was encompassed by an outer baked brick wall supported by a total of forty-four semi-circular towers including four corner ones. In its time, it was the world's largest mosque. One could enter the mosque through one of sixteen gates. It has been posited that featured over each entrance were several small arched windows. Between each tower, a frieze of sunken square niches with beveled frames runs the upper course of the entire structure. The outer wall included twenty-eight windows with twenty-four of them being on the southern face, one for each of the aisles in the inner sanctuary with the exception of the one with the mihrab. The roof of the mosque was supported by twenty-four rows of nine piers in the sanctuary, three rows of nine piers again in the riwaq to the north, and each side having twenty-two rows of four piers. A rectangular mihrab with two marble columns on each side could be found positioned in the southern wall of the mosque. Claims have been made that the Great Mosque of Samarra could be compared to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus as glass mosaics were pervasive throughout the site. Aerial photographs provide evidence that an expansive enclosed field measuring 376 x 444 meters (approximately 17 hectares) surrounded the mosque with a brick wall. This area is known as a ziyada, a widespread feature of Congregational mosques during this period. Within this ziyada was a smaller one that only encompassed the mosque on its north, west, and east sides.
Directly 27.25 meters from the center of the mosque's north face stands the Minaret al-Malwiya, approximately 55 meters high. Although round in shape, this minaret is influenced by a specific type of Mesopotamian ziggurat, square-planned and featuring stairs or an incline on the exterior of its façade while rotating several times until reaching the crown. The base or socle of the minaret measures thirty-three square meters and rises to a height of almost three meters. It supports a spiral ramp that winds counterclockwise five times up the minaret beginning on the side closest to the mosque. At the top of the tower rests a round vestibule, which is adorned with eight pointed-arched niches.
The top of the minaret was destroyed in a bombing in 2005. In 2015 UNESCO and the Iraqi government announced an an agreement regarding the conservation of the Samarra archeological site, which will include restoration of the mosque.
Creswell, K. A. C.1989. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Rev. ed. Allan, James W. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 358-365.
Ettinghausen, Richard and Grabar, Oleg. 1987. The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 86-88.
"UNESCO and Iraq Launch Project for Conservation of World Heritage Site of Samarra." UNESCO World Heritage Centre -. July 29, 2015. Accessed November 12, 2015. http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1330/.