Photo by Wojciech Fedoruk.

Samarra Archaeological City comprises the remains of an ancient large city that was a capital of the Abbasid Empire.

It testifies to the architectural and artistic innovations that developed there and spread to the other regions of the Islamic world, such as carved stucco and a new type of ceramic. Among its architectural monuments are the 9th-century Great Mosque and its Spiral Minaret, and the Caliphal Palace.

Community Perspective: the first review was from a visit in 1975, and the second was from one in 2021. Samarra has been virtually inaccessible for many years and is still under special security measures, but it has come out of the war relatively unscathed. Climbing the spiral staircase however seems to be out of the question nowadays, according to Tamas who visited in 2023.

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Szucs Tamas

Hungary - 29-Sep-23 -

Samarra by Szucs Tamas

In theory Samarra could be a very interesting site. This is the only islamic site of Iraq, so its imporatance in Iraqi culture in unquestionable. . Samarra was the capital of the Abbasid caliphate from 836 CE, when Caliph Al-Mu'tasim founded a new capital at the banks of the Tigris, till 892, when al-Mu'tadid returned the capital to Baghdad. The period between these dates was one of the most dramatic, turbulent  half century in the history of the caliphate. Majestic buildings were erected and events that are crucial in the formation modern Iraq (and the Shi'ite world) happened here. (The death of the 12th and the occultation of the 13th imam.) On the other hand Samarra is not far from Baghdad, an easy day trip on the northern motorway. This is the theory.

The reality is, that Samarra is even now not the most welcoming city in Iraq. The population is predominantly Sunni, but the law enforcement is provided by a Sadrist Shi'ite militia (Saraya al-Salam - their emblem, the peace dove is ubiquitous on grafitties in the city). There are no such restrictions now, that Wojciech described, tourists can enter the area after identity check, without leaving the passports with the militiamen,  but - unlike in Baghdad or other major cities - you can still feel the tension in the air. The most illustrious - and best kept up - building in the city, the al-Askeri moque is not part of the World Heritage Site - understandably by the way, it's heavily reconstructed, and constantly embellished as the other main mosques of Iraq, Tourists are allowed to enter the mosque - after a lot of differenc security checks. The WH area is the former capital - what remained of it.

Most of the components however are not accessible. The most important, and most photographed of these remains is the Great Mosque - not to be confused with the al-Askeri mosque.  At the time of construction, it was the world's largest mosque. It is known for its 52 metres high minaret encircled by a spiral ramp. It's in the outskirts of the city, in a relatively rundown neighbourhood. I really do not know whether it's officially open or not. The big iron door was closed, but our guide could make the guards open it. They collected the official 25 000 IQD entrance fees, but we did not get tickets. The souvenir stall however  - where you can buy the miniature replicas of the minaret - hints that sometimes people show up there to visit the site, however when we were there we were alone. Even one or two years ago it was possible to climb the minaret, and make pictures from above. Now it's forbidden, and the minaret is fenced off, as it is visible on the picture above. As the mosque itself is nothing more than  the wqalls and smoe colummn bases,  the whole visit can't last more than 15-20 minutes. 

Wojciech Fedoruk

Poland - 28-Nov-21 -

Samarra by Wojciech Fedoruk

Samarra is a true symbol of Iraq. The spiral minaret of the Great Mosque is perhaps the most famous monument in this country, more famous than the monuments of Babylon. Although Samarra is quite close to Baghdad, it has been virtually inaccessible for many years. The reason was primarily security concerns - Samarra is an extremely important place for Shi'ite Islam. Even now, in November 2021, Samarra is under special protection - when entering, at the checkpoint on the main road, we had to leave our passports and pick them up on the way back.

Samarra's UNESCO inscription contains many places, but there is no doubt that its focal point is the ruins of the 1,200-year-old Grand Mosque (once the largest in the world), which includes a wonderfully reconstructed spiral minaret. You can climb this minaret and admire the ruins of the Grand Mosque from above, just be careful not to fly down - there are no barriers (the top of the minaret has been destroyed), and the wind blows very hard! There is an entrance fee of IQD 25,000 (~USD 17) but it is worth paying - the site is quite well preserved. You can even buy a souvenir - a small replica of the spiral minaret.

Samarra was taken by the Islamic State, but for a very short time and these barbarians did not manage to seriously destroy anything - Shi'ite mosques were practically intact. In Samarra, we also visited another monument that cannot be missed - the Al-Askari mosque (top right photo), one of the holiest Shi'ite sites, with the tombs of two Shi'ite imams. The Al-Askari Mosque was not as lucky as the Grand Mosque, because it fell victim to bomb attacks twice in 2006-2007, among others destroyed its dome. I do not know how the Iraqis managed to rebuild it, but as I give you my word, there is no trace of any attacks. The mosque itself is simply breathtaking.


Iraq - 25-Mar-10 -

In 1975 we visited Samarra and we were astounded by the spiral minaret which stand out prominently in the desert surroundings. Climbing on the spiral outside staircase, was interesting and our guide said, the higher you climb, the luckier you get! The mosque nearby was admirable, so my Italian husband said and the view from the top was breathtaking, as the ruins from afar were clearly seen

A great experience.

Site Info

Full Name
Samarra Archaeological City
Unesco ID
2007 - In Danger
2 3 4
Archaeological site - Near Eastern

Site History

2007 In Danger

Needs preventive measures and conservation

2007 Inscribed

1983 Deferred

Deferred until receipt of necessary info


The site has 10 locations

Samarra: Samarra North Zone - al-Mutawakkiliyya Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: Samarra Centre Zone Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: Samarra South Zone Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: al-Istablat Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: al-Quwayr Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: Qubbat al-Sulaibiyya Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: al-Ma'shuq Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: Tell Umm al-Sakhr Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: al-Huwaysilat Upper Salah al-Din Governorate,
Samarra: al-Huwaysilat Lower Salah al-Din Governorate,


The site has

Human Activity
Individual People
Religion and Belief
Science and Technology
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process