Al-Mutawakkil loved architecture. As the caliph, the Muslim religious ruler of Samarra in modern-day Iraq, Al-Mutawakkil was obsessed with the creation of magnificent buildings. From his nomination in 847 to his death in 861, he built 20 palaces throughout the city and constructed the Great Mosque of Samarra, the largest mosque in the world at the time. Under Al-Mutawakkil’s ambitious eye, Samarra grew to become one of the most important centers of the Muslim world. But much of Samara, and the Great Mosque’s seventeen isles and blue glass mosaics were lost to history in 1278, when Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulagu Khan led a mongol army in a brutal invasion of Iraq. Only the outer wall of the Mosque and its spiral minaret remain.
The Malwiya, which mean ‘snail shell,’ is 52 meters tall, its height used for 1000 years as a vantage point for the Muslim call to prayer — until 2005, when U.S. troops occupying samarra and combating the local resistance fighters commandeered the sacred site. The Malwiya became a lookout and sniper hole, with U.S. military firing at insurgents in the city below from behind sandbags. Though U.S. forces eventually moved on, resistance fighters later bombed the minaret, partially damaging the top floor in an attempt to prevent future threats.
It’s an awful and consistent theme in the history of architecture. No matter how beautiful or sacred, war will always erase the best things humanity can build.
Reed Enger, "Malwiya Minaret, ملوية," in Obelisk Art History, Published June 17, 2017; last modified July 10, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/middle-ages/islamic-dynastic-art/malwiya-minaret/.