Visiting the Malwiya Tower & Grand Mosque in Samarra, Iraq
Updated May 2023, Visiting the Malwiya Tower & Grand Mosque in Samarra, Iraq was originally published in August 2022
The spiraling Malwiya Minaret is one of Iraq’s most recognizable and iconic buildings, rising 52 meters above the city of Samarra and offering sweeping views of the desert sceneries below.
But reaching the Malwiya Minaret is no easy feat, owing to the militant checkpoints you’ll need to pass through en route from Baghdad or Mosul to get there. Not to worry though- it’s entirely possible to reach Samarra whether it be on a tour or independently
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At its zenith, Samarra was a powerful capital of the Abbasid Empire which ruled over a large swath of Earth extending from North Africa to Central Asia. In the 9th century, construction began on the Great Mosque of Samarra which included the iconic Malwiya Minaret. At the time of its completion, the Grand Mosque of Samarra was the largest in the world.
The Grand Mosque of Samarra would suffer a tough fate, being completely destroyed in the 13th century during Hulagu Khan’s invasion of Iraq. At the end of the invasion, all that remained were the outer walls of the mosque and the Malwiya Minaret. It was largely left to decay for the next few centuries until it suffered a blow in 2005 at the hands of insurgents that partially destroyed the minaret.
Since then the Malwiya Minaret has undergone extensive restoration and plans are in place to restore the attached Grand Mosque of Samarra.
The architecture of the Grand Mosque of Samarra’s minaret is believed to be inspired by the design of nearby Mesopotamian ziggurats- giving it the spiraled walkway that winds around to the top.
Due to the Grand Mosque of Samarra and its Malwiya Minaret’s historical significance they were given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2007.
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How to Get to Samarra
You can reach Samarra either by arranging a trip with a local guide or independently. Obviously, if you opt to go guided you’ll have an additional expense but someone else will deal with the headaches whereas going independently you’ll have to navigate through the checkpoints on your own, which isn’t difficult, just time-consuming at times.
Shared taxis to Samarra
Assuming you’ll be going to Samarra from Baghdad you’ll need to go to Allawi North Garage to find shared taxis departing for Samarra, a seat should cost about 15,000 IQD, though you could opt to hire a taxi privately to take you to Samarra, wait for you, and bring you back. If hiring a private taxi for your visit, plan to pay about 30,000 IQD each way to charter a car with some hard bargaining.
You will need to pass through a militant-run checkpoint to enter the city of Samarra, so having a local contact will be beneficial here. Some people get through without any problems while others get held up and questioned about why they are visiting Samarra. If you want to gain contacts before your trip, I would suggest joining Iraqi Traveler’s Cafe on Facebook and asking there.
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The Checkpoint to Enter Samarra
The checkpoint entering Samarra is run by a Shia militant group called Saryat as Salaam. You can typically expect to be questioned and held up here a bit as a foreigner, though sometimes people manage to squeak through without much scrutiny.
Others have reported needing a contact in Samarra or even an escort to continue with them to the Grand Mosque of Samarra. In all honesty, I think sometimes it just depends on who is manning the checkpoint that day, some are a bit more anal than others- something you will likely notice with other checkpoints as you travel around Iraq. I’ve been quite lucky with my checkpoint experiences in Iraq when traveling around independently as I usually pass as local.
Even if you’ve hired a guide to arrange your trip you may experience a hold up here at the Samarra checkpoint- this was the case on the Iraq tour I ran back in December-January, though it wasn’t anything too crazy, just had to patiently wait for about 45 minutes.
When you are at the checkpoint just be patient and polite, they will eventually let you move along.
Grand Mosque of Samarra Entry Fee
There is a fee to enter the Grand Mosque of Samarra and Malwiya Minaret. Foreigners pay a 25,000 IQD fee to enter the gates into the complex.
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Climbing the Malwiya Minaret
Climbing the spiraling Malwiya Minaret is a highlight of coming to Samarra and the Grand Mosque. So unless you suffer from vertigo or acrophobia, then it’s an absolute must!
If you’re visiting Iraq in the winter months it can be a bit windy and chilly on top of the minaret, so I would suggest bringing a light jacket if that’s the case as you’ll likely want to spend a bit of time at the top admiring the views.
Getting Back to Baghdad
After you’ve finished visiting the Grand Mosque of Samarra and the Malwiya Minaret, independent travelers will need to head to the Samarra Garage to find a shared taxi back to Baghdad, unless you’ve made arrangements with a private taxi from Baghdad to bring you here and wait on you. Shared taxi seats should cost 15,000 IQD (same as the way there) back to Baghdad and hiring an entire car will set you back 30,000 IQD with some negotiating.
Important Info to Know Before You Go to Samarra
- It’s not permitted for foreigners to stay overnight in Samarra, so you’ll need to plan your visit as a day trip which is most easily done from Baghdad
- Excluding the time you’ll be at the checkpoint, it’s about a 90 minute drive each way between Baghdad and Samarra
- You may be given a military/police escort at the checkpoint to accompany you to the Grand Mosque of Samarra
Have Any Questions About Visiting Samarra?
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