minaret mĭnərĕt´ [key], tower, used in Islamic architecture, from which the faithful are called to prayer by a muezzin. Most mosques have one or more small towers, which are usually placed at the corners. The earliest structures specifically built as minarets were the four low square towers at the four corners of the Mosque of Amr in Egypt (AD 673). The square form remained in use in Syria until the 13th cent. and in the Maghreb until modern times; the minaret of Giralda in Seville (AD 1195) is famous. The free-standing conical minaret surrounded by a spiral staircase, probably deriving from the ancient Babylonian ziggurat, was built at Samarra, Iraq, and in Cairo in the second half of the 9th cent. The most typical Egyptian development is seen in the octagonal minarets of the two 15th-century Cairo mosques of El-Azhar and Kait-bey; both have two balconies, the upper smaller than the lower, over projecting friezes of stalactite vaulting and are surmounted by an elongated and bulbous finial. The most distinctly Persian development (see Persian art and architecture ) are the two pairs of slim, towering minarets flanking the huge entrance arches of the Isfahan Masjid-i Shah (c.1612); the conical shafts terminate in covered balconies and are entirely encased in brilliant blue tiles. See Islamic art and architecture .
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