The city of Baghdad is the economic, cultural and political capital
of the modern nation-state of Iraq. Situated on the banks of the Tigris
River, it lies at the northwest end of the alluvial plain that is home
to 75% of Iraq's population. As such, its location is in the heart of
Ancient Mesopotamia, where the some of the first recorded instances of
irrigation and a sedentary agriculture fomented the Sumerian
civilization. The political community of Baghdad, however, dates back to
the mid-eighth century CE.
Abbasid Period (749-1258/131-655 AH)
the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, Baghdad wielded the greatest
political power in the Islamic world from the middle of the eighth
century until the middle of the tenth. The revolution that brought the
dynasty to power coincides with most accounts of the city's founding in
762, though pre-Islamic texts - including the Talmud - mention a
significant, if modest, market town at this location. The second Abbasid
caliph Mansur succeeded his brother Saffah (reg. 750-754/132-136 AH) in
754, and by 762, Mansur had commissioned the construction of a capital
for the new regime, moving political control from Kufa to his new,
defensible city. Baghdad remained the Abbasid capital from 762 until
1258 CE. The perfect circle that delimited the city was made of a thick
rampart surrounded by a moat and an outer wall. Arab historians of the
day remarked that the Round City's
layout was unique, but it was not without precedent. Scholars agree the
circular morphology reflected the Sasanian influences on Baghdad's
original urban design. The circular plan of the city is reminiscent of
Firouzabad in Fars.
Mansur's choice of Baghdad
as his capital reflected his desire to maintain political and cultural
connections with the eastern as well as western hinterlands of his
empire. At each quadrant of the circle stood an impressive gate leading
to Khurasan, Basra, Kufa and Syria. The Tigris would facilitate trade
from the north, the south and the sea. Furthermore, the extant
Mesopotamian canal system was developed; the waters of the Euphrates
irrigated the remarkably fertile soils west of Baghdad.
speculate that during the reign of Harun al-Rashid (842-847/227-232 AH)
Baghdad was the largest city in the world, with a possible population
of between 700,000 and 1,000,000 inhabitants - a cosmopolitan mix of
migrants that included Arabs, Persians, Jews and Indians, among others.
During this period, this center of civilization witnessed huge
scientific, theological and cultural advances, such as al-Khawarismi's
invention of algebra and the poetry of Abu Nuwas. But Harun's reign is
most famous for the ways it was mythologized centuries later in 1001 Nights.
Harun's death, early signs of the eventual disintegration of the
Abbasid dynasty were beginning to appear, and a new capital city was
created at Samarra in the 850s. Shortly thereafter, Baghdad was
reinstated as the capital. Abbasid Baghdad remained an important center
of Islamic cultural life until the mid-thirteenth century. But by 945,
the growing tension between provincial governors and Turkish generals
led to a power vacuum that was filled by the Buwayhids, who sold the
empire to local warlords piece by piece. Baghdad's influence waned.
Significant Abbasid architecture in Baghdad includes the Abbasid Palace in the Q'ala, minarets of the Qumriyya and Khatafin Mosques and Bab el-Wastani (Wastani Gate).
the Seljuk General Tughrul Beg marched into Baghdad in 1055, he
declared himself the ruler of the Muslim world. For forty years, Baghdad
experienced a renaissance under the Seljuks, with the establishment of
the prestigious Nidhamiya school and a revival of Persian culture, but
the Seljuks' power was sapped by the First Crusade in 1095. The Abbasid
Caliphs and the Seljuk Sultans vied for power throughout the next
century, and the Abbasid Caliph al-Nasr finally freed Baghdad of Seljuk
Turk influence by 1186. The Abbasid restoration did foster specific
cultural milestones, such as the construction of the extant Mustansiriya Madrasa in
1233 (an important Sunni theological college that was incorporated into
Baghdad University in 1962), but the Caliphs' contributions to Sunni
posterity exceeded their political and military acumen.
Post-Abbasid period (1258-1535/655-941 AH)
Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258, executing the remaining Abbasid family
members. The Mongols destroyed the city and most of its architectural,
religious and literary monuments, including the original Sumerian
irrigation system that had initiated the region's prosperity. Hulagu
Khan, great-grandson of Genghis Khan and commander of the invading army,
appointed a fellow Mongol as administrator, who then rebuilt mosques
and brought a measure of stability to the war-torn city. The Suq al-Ghasl minaret (ca. 1279/677 AH) was added in Il-Khanid times to the Abbasid-era Khulafa mosque.
series of bloody dynastic and sectarian convulsions were to define the
next few centuries, which witnessed the short-lived reigns of the
Jalayrid, Qara-Qoyunlu, Aq-Qoyunlu and Safavid dynasties. Baghdad was
destroyed more than once in this period, notably by Timur (Tamerlane) in
1401, and the city's Sunnis were massacred by Safavid fanatics in 1501.
This genocide attracted the fury of Sulaiman the Magnificent in
Istanbul, who rode to Baghdad and successfully established Iraq as
Ottoman Rule (1535 - 1917/941-1335 AH)
the next four hundred years - with the exception of a sixteen year
insurrection by Safavid Persians starting in 1622 - Iraq would remain an
Ottoman province of limited international significance, named the
"Principality of Baghdad". Between 1869 and 1872, Ottoman governor
Midhat Pasha applied Tanzimat reforms to Baghdad. He instituted legal
reform, imported a printing press, started a newspaper, and built
schools and hospitals. He divided the province into three governorates:
Mosul, Baghdad and Basra (which included Kuwait). The Tanzimat reforms
had significant town planning implications: for the first time in its
history, wide, straight thoroughfares could be cut into the existing
urban fabric. Significant Ottoman architecture in Baghdad includes the Jaylani Complex (1534/940 AH) and Ahmadiya Mosque (1795/120 AH).
1908, the revolution of the Young Turks spawned Arab nationalism in
Iraq. While the Young Turks' ideology sought the imposition of a Turkish
identity on all Ottoman subjects, the collateral effect in Iraq was the
birth of pan-Arabism.
Birth of the Mandate & Modern Iraq (1917-2005/1335-1425 AH)
the early 20th Century, the British, who had established a trade post
in Basra as early as the 17th Century, controlled both the southern
route to India (via the Red Sea) and the northern one (via Afghanistan).
The middle road, through Baghdad, was much shorter. The British invaded
Iraq from the south during WWI, battling German and Ottoman forces on
the push north to Baghdad in order to gain control of Iraqi oil and
trade routes. The British installed the King of Iraq in Baghdad in 1921.
Baghdad was named the official capital of the new nation-state. Even
when Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations in 1932, with the
British Mandate formally over, British influence remained until the
overthrow of the monarchy in 1958.
d'etat of July 14th, 1958, sought to assert an Iraqi identity rather
than an ethnic or sectarian one: Baghdad's new government was ruled by a
three-man sovereignty council comprised of a Shia, a Sunni and a Kurd.
Freedom of the press, equal rights for the Kurdish community, and
women's suffrage were enshrined in law.
the 1950s, a growing population was exerting pressure on the existing
urban fabric of Baghdad, and the governments of the day conceded that
modern planning interventions seemed the best way to respond. At the end
of World War I, Baghdad's population was reduced to 200,000. By 1965,
this figure reached 1.62 million. In 1955, Doxiadis Associates of Greece
(responsible for the planning of Islamabad in 1965 and Riyadh in 1972)
were commissioned to produce a comprehensive modern plan for the city,
which resulted in the razing of many squatter settlements and the
creation of large peripheral housing projects.
1963, a coalition of Arab nationalist parties seized power, and the
Ba'ath Party rose to supremacy through yet another coup in 1968. Saddam
Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was appointed deputy of the new Ba'ath
leadership. Under the Ba'athists, the Doxiadis plan for Baghdad was
replaced with a plan from the Polish firm of Polservice, who advocated
high-rise housing as a solution to Baghdad's housing crisis. Throughout
the 70s, the price of oil buoyed unprecedented building construction in
Baghdad, during which time local architects could collaborate with
international consultants such as John Warren and the Architect's
Collaborative. Notable examples of architectural modernism in Baghdad
include Le Corbusier's Saddam Hussein National Gymnasium and Realisation Scolaire Architectes' National Film Centre (both 1981/1401 AH).
Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) slowed progress, though large,
state-sponsored building projects continued in Baghdad and across the
country. Significant architectural projects in Baghdad since this war
have been dominated by vast monuments to the Iraqi war dead and
elaborate renovations to Hussein's palaces. In 1990, the US-led Gulf War
that aimed to liberate Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion did not advance to
Baghdad, but basic infrastructure in the city was systematically
disabled. The sanctions imposed on Iraq thereafter further crippled
Baghdad, virtually eliminating the middle class in the process. On the
20th of March, 2003, a new US-led effort to topple Hussein's government
did not shy from attacking Baghdad directly. Baghdad fell within twenty
days. The Coalition Provisional Authority, which governed the country
until May 2004, maintained the well-defended military 'Green Zone' as
the core of administrative activity. Outside of the central zone, which
is centered on Hussein's palaces, violence remains a daily reality for
Baghdadis. The city's monuments and objects of archaeological or art
historical significance are under threat. The looting of Iraq's
Archeological Museum was highly publicized after the fall of Saddam
Hussein's regime. But Iraq's National Library and Archives suffered even
more devastating losses. As of April 2007, best estimates for Baghdad's
current population are 5.1 million, which is just under a fifth of
Iraq's total population of 26.7 million.
The Khulafa Central Mosque was architect Mohamed Makiya’s first major public works project. In 1960 the Iraqi Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) commissioned him to build a mosque on the same site the Abbasid caliph Muqtafi had built one in the early 10th century, and to incorporate into it the only structure still standing on the site, the 13th century Suq Al Ghazl Minaret.
An even more significant challenge came from the dimensions and location of the site itself, in an urban section of Baghdad, in the midst of tall commercial buildings. According to his son Kanan, Mohamed Makiya fought with the Ministry of Awqaf for two years, in an unsuccessful effort to get the parcel enlarged so he could build a structure proportional to the importance of the minaret. For Dr. Makiya it was a building a new mosque that incorporated such an important monument in such a modern environment challenged him to express traditional character in a new architectural ambience.”1 Ultimately he says, “I had to build a cathedral in an area suitable for a chapel.”2 The project was completed in 1964.
Kanan Makiya describes the mosque as a collection of discreet elements, the focal point being the refurbished minaret. The other elements, a domed prayer hall and three riwaqs (porticos), are “placed and sized with reference to it."3
The minaret is set in a small sunken court in the southeast corner of the sahn (courtyard). The minaret had just been refurbished in 1960 when Mohamed Makiya was charged with building a mosque to incorporate it. The minaret is constructed in brick and mortar and rises from a twelve-sided foundation. Both the base and balcony feature layers of muqarnas. The brickwork on the shaft forms a complex geometric pattern, and it is decorated with Kufic calligraphy. Makiya sought continuity between these decorative elements and his design for the new mosque.
The prayer hall is octagonal, and 14 meters high with a dome rising an additional 7 meters. Columns and a cantilevered ring beam support the dome. At its base is an arched gallery and a black and white ceramic frieze band. The frieze features highly geometric, interlaced, Kufic calligraphy, intended to harmonize with the more traditional styles of Kufic calligraphy on the minaret. The exterior of the dome is covered in geometric yellow brickwork that matches the brickwork on the minaret. The exterior walls of the prayer hall are also covered in varying shades of yellow bricks, arranged in geometric patterns. The interior walls are decorated with precast concrete, arranged in two bands: geometric patterns above pointed arches.
The riwaqs and walls - According to a proposal submitted for the expansion of the Khulafa Mosque in 1981, the riwaqs and boundary walls, each approximately 12 meters in height, are designed to protect the minaret “from the overpowering domination of the numerous surrounding tall buildings which sadly conflict in scale and massing with the minaret."4
The largest riwaq runs along the northwest edge and provides an entrance to the mosque from Khulafa Street, a major divided artery running alongside the southwest façade. Bent steel rails that form Islamic calligraphy and organic patterns decorate the arches. The riwaq terminates in the courtyard, but the northern boundary wall continues to the northern corner of the mosque.
A second riwaq enters the courtyard from a small road that delineates the southern boundary of the mosque, but does not run parallel to the perimeter. Rather the entrance of the riwaq intersects the perimeter at a right angle, and extends into the courtyard, ending in front of the prayer hall. Glazed arches line the passageway connecting the riwaq to the prayer hall.
A false riwaq composed of two stacked arcades runs along the northeast perimeter to the prayer hall. The bottom layer is essentially a dense wall separating the courtyard from the street. It is decorated with embedded arches made from yellow carved brick. It supports a ledge, decorated with a frieze of yellow brick that forms Kufic calligraphy. Narrow columns on the ledge support a canopy of pointed arches formed in concrete. The rear wall of the upper arcade is open to the sky creating a sense of scale beyond the actual dimensions of the wall.
Some of the material used in construction was salvaged from the site. The principle building material is locally produced clay bricks, stone and wood, with steel and concrete also being used in the ceilings and the dome. The floors are stone.
Even after construction was completed, Mohamed Makiya continued to want to develop the site. In 1981 Makiya Associates, in association with consulting architects and engineers Archicentre, presented the Mayor of Baghdad with proposals arguing for the building of a new mosque built on a “more grand and suitable scale reflecting and regenerating the historical importance of the site."5
The proposal also argues for significant expansion of the site to include living quarters, a larger prayer hall, library, dining facilities, and a larger courtyard. The new plan proposed a new, much larger mosque, and presented several options for use of the existing structure. These included conversion into a library, or a proposal that existing mosque serve as a weekday mosque when fewer people would be praying, with the larger mosque to be used on Fridays and holy days. No action was ever taken on the proposal.6
--Michael A. Toler, AKDC@MIT, June 2014
Notes: 1. Aga Khan Award for Architecture Nomination Form, Project Summary. 1980, 2. Kanan Makiya, Post-Islamic Classicism, 43. 3. Kanan Makiya, Post-Islamic Classicism, 45. 4. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Proposals, 2.2 5. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Proposals, 2.3 6. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Proposals, 2.3
Sources: Khalil, Jabir and Strika, Vincenzo. The Islamic Architecture of Baghdad; the Results of a Joint Italian -Iraqi Survey. Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1987.
Khulafa Central Mosque. Aga Khan Award for Architecture Nomination Form. Geneva, Switzerland: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, September 15, 1979.
Kultermann, Udo. Contemporary Architecture in the Arab States: Renaissance of a Region. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.
Makiya Associates and Archicentre. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Development Proposal. Baghdad, 1981.
Makiya, Kanan. Post-Islamic Classicism: a Visual Essay on the Architecture of Mohamed Makiya. London: Saqi Books, 1990.
Makiya, Kanan. The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq. London: Andre Deutsch, 1991.