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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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MINARET (from the Arabic manarat; manar or minar is Arabic for a lighthouse, a tower on which nar, fire, is lit), a lofty, turret peculiar to Mahommedan architecture. The form is derived from that of the Pharos, the great lighthouse of Alexandria, in the top storey of which the Mahommedan conquerors in the 7th century placed a small praying chamber. The lighthouse form is perpetuated in the minarets which are found attached to all Mahommedan mosques, and probably had considerable influence on the evolution of the Christian church tower (see an exhaustive study in Hermann Thiersch, Pharos Antike, Islam and Occident, 1909). The minaret is always square from the base to the height of the wall of the mosque to which it is attached, and very often octangular above. The upper portion is divided into two or three stages, the wall of the upper storey being slightly set back behind the one below, so as to admit of a narrow balcony, from which the azan, or call to prayer, is chanted by the muazzin (muezzin, moeddin). In order to give greater width to the balcony it is corbelled out with stalactitic vaulting. The balconies are surrounded with stone balustrades, and the upper storeys are richly decorated; the top storey being surmounted with a small bulbous dome. The earliest minaret known is that which was built by the caliph Walid (A.D. 705) in the mosque of Damascus, the next in date being the minaret of the mosque of Tulun, at Cairo (A.D. 879), with an external spiral flight of steps like the observatory towers in Assyrian architecture. This minaret at also the example of El Hakim (996), is raised on great square towers. The more remarkable of the.other Cairene minarets are those of Imam esh-Shafi (1218), Muristan al Kalaun (1280), Hassan (1354), Barkuk (A.D. 1382) and Kait Bey (A.D. 1468). Of the same type are the two minarets added to the mosque of Damascus in the 15th century. In Persia the minarets are generally circular, with a single balcony at the top, corbelled out and covered over. In India, at Ghazni, there are no balconies, and the upper part of the tower tapers upwards; the same is noticeable at Delhi, where the minaret of Kutab is divided into six storeys with balconies at each level. In the well-known tomb of the Taj Mahal the four minarets are all built in white marble, in three storeys with balconies to each storey, and surmounted by open lanterns. The minarets of Constantinople are very lofty and wire-drawn, but contrast well with the domes of the mosques, which are of slight elevation as compared with those at Cairo.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Minaret'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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