Samarra by Zohra Kolani

The city of Samarra was one of the most significant new cities built under the Abbasid caliphate.  As the empire began to grow, the need to separate the Turkish troops from the everyday population, in addition to the growth and development of the original capital of Baghdad, led to the establishment of Samarra as the new capital of the empire.

Built by caliph al-Mut’asim in 836 AD, Samarra is located in Iraq, and was established on the east bank of the Tigris. This made it a fairly ideal location because it allowed for access to China. It also opened up trade routes on the sea. As the population and activity grew in Baghdad, Samarra became established as the new capital, with about six palace complexes surrounded by garrison settlements to house the troops and their families.

Samarra was one of the most well preserved cities of the Islamic empire. It has one of the most preserved plans of an Islamic city and provides archaeologists with significant insight into the world of Abbasid life and culture. Scholars look at the time of the Abbasid caliphate as one that was a golden age in early Islamic history.  Baghdad flourished tremendously, becoming a center of scholarship and economic development. The Abbasid caliphate became a center of intellectual curiosity and development, giving rise to new technologies including the canal system. Samarra was also a place of economic growth due to its trade routes. New forms of art, including lusterware, were influenced by Chinese art and became items of luxury in Samarra and throughout the empire.

Samarra was a center of beautiful and original architecture during the time of caliph Al-Mutawakkil, which further serves as a testament to the notion of the Abbasid golden age. Due to the city’s booming economy, funds were invested in the building of establishments such as the Great Mosque of Samarra, with its unique spiral minaret. The appearance of the city was developed in a very unique manner with its architecture, and the Great Mosque became an icon of Samarra. This was a reflection of the strength and reach of the Abbasid caliphate and Samarra shone as an architectural beacon of the empire. Additionally, the meticulous planning of its streets and basins made Samarra a hallmark of city planning and development that was reflective of the empire’s strength and organization.

In conclusion, the city of Samarra was a true reflection of the extent and reach of the Abbasid caliphate. The expansion of the empire leading to Samarra as the second capital is evidence of the political and military strength that the caliphate held. Its architectural advances provided evidence for the golden age character of the empire, with its artistic and scholastic innovation. Its location maintained peace between the troops and the citizens, while also serving as an economic benefit to the empire for trade and the exchange of knowledge and cultural influence from China.  For these reasons, Samarra stood as an icon of Islamic cities and a strong establishment during the Abbasid golden age.