Samarra

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Map showing Samarra near Baghdad
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Sāmarrā (سامراء) is a town in Iraq (34°11′54.45″N, 43°52′27.28″E). It stands on the east bank of the Tigris in the Salah ad Din Governorate, 125 km north of Baghdad and, in 2002, had an estimated population of 201,700.

Medieval Islamic writers believed that the name “Samarra” is derived from the Arabic phrase, “Sarre men ra’a” which translates to “A joy for all who see”. This is, however, just a folk etymology and historically inaccurate.

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[edit] Ancient Samarra

Though the present archaeological site covered by mudbrick ruins is vast, the site of Samarra was only lightly occupied in ancient times, apart from the Chalcolithic Samarran Culture (ca 5500–4800 BC) identified at the rich site of Tell Sawwan, where evidence of irrigation—including flax— establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known by its finely-made pottery decorated against dark-fired backgrounds with stylized figures of animals and birds and geometric designs. This widely-exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra. The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period.

A city of Sur-marrati, refounded by Sennacherib in 690 BC according to a stele in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, is insecurely identified with a fortified Assyrian site of Assyrian at al-Huwaysh, on the Tigris opposite to modern Samarra.

Ancient toponyms for Samarra noted by the Samarra Archaeological Survey are: Greek: Souma (Ptolemy V.19, Zosimus III, 30), Latin: Sumere, a fort mentioned during the retreat of the army of Julian the Apostate in AD 364 (Ammianus Marcellinus XXV, 6, 8), and Syriac Sumra (Hoffmann, Auszüge, 188; Michael the Syrian, III, 88), described as a village.

The possibility of a larger population was offered by the opening of the Qatul al-Kisrawi, the northern extension of the Nahrawan canal which drew water from the Tigris in the region of Samarra, attributed by Yaqut (Mu`jam see under "Qatul") to the Sassanid king Khosrau I Anushirvan (531–578). To celebrate the completion of this project, a commemorative tower (modern Burj al-Qa'im) was built at the southern inlet south of Samarra, and a palace with a "paradise" or walled hunting park was constructed at the northern inlet (modern Nahr al-Rasasi) near to al-Daur. A supplementary canal, the Qatul Abi al-Jund, excavated by the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, was commemorated by a planned city laid out in the form of a regular octagon (modern Husn al-Qadisiyya), called al-Mubarak and abandoned unfinished in 796.

[edit] Abbasid capital

Image:Minaret Samarra Iraq.jpg
A U.S. soldier descends the Malwiya Tower in Samarra, Iraq.
In 836 the Abbasid caliphate's Turkic and Armenian slave soldiers -known as Mamluk- agitated the citizens of Baghdad, provoking riots. The capital of the Caliphate was moved from Baghdad to the new city of Samarra later that year by Caliph Al-Mu'tasim.

During this time the original pre-Islamic settlement was replaced with a new city established in 833. Samara would remain the capital of the Muslim world until 892 when it was returned to Baghdad by al-Mu'tamid. Al-Mu'tasim's successor, al-Wathiq, developed Samara into a commercial city, and it was further developed under Caliph Al-Mutawakkil.

The latter sponsored the construction of the Great Mosque of Samarra with its spiral minaret or malwiyah, built in 847. He also laid out parks and a palace for his son Al-Mu'tazz. Under the rule of Al-Mu'tadid, the Abbassid capital was shifted back to Baghdad and Samarra entered a prolonged decline, which accelerated after the 13th century when the course of the Tigris shifted.

[edit] Islamic significance

Image:Samarra.png
The two Shiite mosques in Samarra

The city is also home to the Al-Askari Mosque, containing the mausoleums of the Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari, the tenth and eleventh Shia Imams, respectively, as well as the shrine of Muhammad al-Mahdi, known as the "Hidden Imam", who is the twelfth and final Imam of the Shia. This has made it an important pilgrimage centre for Shia Muslims. In addition, Hakimah Khatun and Narjis Khatun, female relatives of the Prophet Mohammed and the Shia Imams, held in high esteem by Shia and Sunni Muslims, are buried there, making this mosque one of the most significant sites of worship for Shia and a venerated location for Sunni Muslims.

[edit] Modern era

During the 20th century, Samarra gained new importance when a lake was created near the town by damming the river in order to end the frequent flooding of Baghdad downstream. Many local people were displaced by the dam, resulting in a big increase in Samarra's population.

Samarra is a key city in Salahuddin province, a major part of the so-called Sunni Triangle where insurgents have been active since shortly after 2003 invasion by the United States of America. Though Samarra is famous as a site of Shi'a holy sites, including the tombs of several Shi'a Imams, the town is dominated by Sunnis. This has caused tensions, particularly since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On February 22, 2006, the golden dome of the Al Askari Mosque was destroyed by bombs, setting off a period of rioting and reprisal attacks across the country which claimed hundreds of lives. No organizations have claimed responsibility, however it is believed that the Mujahideen Shura Council, or groups sympathetic to its cause, were behind the attack.

On March 16 2006 the United States Army launched what was reported ([1]) as "the largest air assault" since the 2003 invasion, Operation Swarmer, targeting "insurgent strongholds" in a sparsely-populated region north of Samarra seems to have been a quite minor action and the massive media build is suspected (eg. [2]) to have been a propaganda exercise.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Samarra

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