Officially known as the Malwiya or the Snail shell minaret, the Spiral minaret in Iraq was the main attractive part of the Great Mosque of Samarra, commissioned by Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil, who reigned in Samarra from 847 to 861. Al-Mutawakkil was a man obsessed with the idea of creating magnificent buildings and he constructed 20 palaces throughout the city and the Great Mosque of Samarra, which was the largest mosque in the world at that time. Under his watchful eyes Samarra steadily grew to become one of the most important centres of the Muslim world.
The new Congregational Mosque, built between 849 and 851, formed part of an extension of the city to the east. It was equipped with 17 aisles and its walls were paneled with mosaics of dark blue glass. Constructed in 848-852, the twisted minaret or the tower of the mosque, made of sandstone, is 171 feet (52 m) high and 108 feet (33 m) wide at the base. The spiral containing stairs reaching to the top is visible from a considerable distance in the area around Samarra and the stucco carvings within the mosque in floral and geometric designs represent early Islamic decoration.
It is said that Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil used to ride a white donkey up the spiraling path to the top of the minaret. Originally the minaret was connected to the mosque by a bridge. It is suggested by many that the unique spiral design of the minaret owes its origin to the architecture of the Mesopotamian Ziggurats, a type of massive structure built in ancient Mesopotamia. However, others maintain that it was strongly influenced by the tower-like structure built in the centre of the Sassanian circular city of Gor.
Over the time, the Great mosque became shabby and battered and by the 11th century, it fell into disuse. Finally, the seventeen isles and the beautiful blue glass mosaics of the Great Mosque were lost forever, when in 1278 a Mongol army, led by Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan invaded Iraq. Only the outer wall of the famous Mosque and the spiral minaret survived the brutal attack.
Despite everything, the height of the minaret was used as a vantage point for the Muslim call for prayer until 2005, when the American troops occupying Samara and combating the local resistance used the minaret for observation. Subsequently, although the US troops left the minaret, the top of the Malwiya minaret underwent a huge bombing, which partially destroyed the top floor of the tower. While some claim that the attack was directed against US forces, others maintain that it was done by the resistance forces to prevent future threats. Nevertheless, after proudly standing in the medieval Abbasid capital for more than 1000 years, the spiral minaret has now started to crumble.
However, the Samarra Archaeological City was enlisted in the USENCO World Heritage Site in 2007 and hopefully, actions would be taken to make it sufficiently strong.