Samarra Archaeological City
Inscription Year on the List of World Heritage in Danger: 2007
Samarra Archaeological City is the site of a powerful Islamic capital city that ruled over the provinces of the Abbasid Empire extending from Tunisia to Central Asia for a century. Located on both sides of the River Tigris 130 km north of Baghdad, the length of the site from north to south is 41.5 km; its width varying from 8 km to 4 km. It testifies to the architectural and artistic innovations that developed there and spread to the other regions of the Islamic world and beyond. The 9th-century Great Mosque and its spiral minaret are among the numerous remarkable architectural monuments of the site, 80% of which remain to be excavated.
Outstanding Universal Value
The ancient capital of Samarra dating from 836-892 provides outstanding evidence of the Abbasid Caliphate which was the major Islamic empire of the period, extending from Tunisia to Central Asia. It is the only surviving Islamic capital that retains its original plan, architecture and arts, such as mosaics and carvings. Samarra has the best preserved plan of an ancient large city, being abandoned relatively early and so avoiding the constant rebuilding of longer lasting cities.
Samarra was the second capital of the Abbasid Caliphate after Baghdad. Following the loss of the monuments of Baghdad, Samarra represents the only physical trace of the Caliphate at its height.
The city preserves two of the largest mosques (Al-Malwiya and Abu Dulaf) and the most unusual minarets, as well as the largest palaces in the Islamic world (the Caliphal Palace Qasr al-Khalifa, al-Ja'fari, al Ma'shuq, and others). Carved stucco known as the Samarra style was developed there and spread to other parts of the Islamic world at that time. A new type of ceramic known as Lustre Ware was also developed in Samarra, imitating utensils made of precious metals such as gold and silver.
Criterion (ii): Samarra represents a distinguished architectural stage in the Abbasid period by virtue of its mosques, its development, the planning of its streets and basins, its architectural decoration, and its ceramic industries.
Criterion (iii): Samarra is the finest preserved example of the architecture and city planning of the Abbasid Caliphate, extending from Tunisia to Central Asia, and one of the world's great powers of that period. The physical remains of this empire are usually poorly preserved since they are frequently built of unfired brick and reusable bricks.
Criterion (iv): The buildings of Samarra represent a new artistic concept in Islamic architecture in the Malwiya and Abu Dulaf mosques, in the form of a unique example in the planning, capacity and construction of Islamic mosques by comparison with those which preceded and succeeded it. In their large dimensions and unique minarets, these mosques demonstrate the pride and political and religious strength that correspond with the strength and pride of the empire at that time.
Since the war in Iraq commenced in 2003, this property has been occupied by multi-national forces that use it as a theatre for military operations.
The conditions of integrity and authenticity appear to have been met, to the extent evaluation is possible without a technical mission of assessment. After abandonment by the Caliphate, occupation continued in a few areas near the nucleus of the modern city but most of the remaining area was left untouched until the early 20th century. The archaeological site is partially preserved, with losses caused mainly by ploughing and cultivation, minor in comparison with other major sites. Restoration work has been in accordance with international standards.
The boundaries of the core and buffer zones appear to be both realistic and adequate. Prior to current hostilities, the State Party protected the site from intrusions, whether farming or urban, under the Archaeological Law. Protective procedures have been in abeyance since 2003 and the principal risk to the property arises from the inability of the responsible authorities to exercise control over the management and conservation of the site.