Why is the knowledge of history always the first casualty?
Richard J. H. Gottheil. “The Origin and History of the Minaret”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Mar., 1910): 152-4.
It is a well-known fact that the early Christian basilica had no towers attached or superposed. The same is true of the earliest Byzantine churches in Italy – the classic home of the campanile. Even to this day there are none attached to the cathedral of Parenzo (535-543), of Prado (571-586) or to that of San Lorenzo at Milan (6th century), which are among the earliest examples of church architecture in the West. … The oldest campaniles are supposed to date from the beginnings of the ninth century – those of Santa Maria della Cella at Viterbo and Sant Ambrogio at Milan: though that of Sant Apollionare in Classe is held by some to be of the eighth century. The campanile of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo is however reliably dated between 850 and 878.
It is therefore a pertinent question – whence did this addition to church architecture come? The writer of the article “Kirchenbau” in the Protestantische Real-Encyclopädie is of opinion that it was an original conception both in Italy and in the Frankish Empire, and that it had no connection whatsoever with the East. I understand this to be be also the meaning of Adolf Fäh’s words: Ein neues Element bilden die meist kreisrunden Türme”. But one might well ask in return – if they were not necessary as belfries, what purpose did they serve? In Ravenna they could hardly be needed as towers of defence, since the whole city was enclosed by a wall. Nor could they be used as light-houses; for that purpose they were too far distant from the shore. It is certainly peculiar that the rise of the campanile or church tower synchronizes with the coming of the Arabs into the Mediterranean. The first Arab raid upon Sicily is said to have taken place in the year 701; and though Sicily and certain parts of Southern Italy did not come under their direct rule until the Aghlabites were strong in Africa during the ninth century, Arab influence permeated the Eastern Mediterranean long before that. I do not know what authority there is for the statement that the columns for the basilicas at Ravenna were made in Istria by oriental workmen; but Ravenna was a great centre from which Oriental influences passed on into Europe – not only in art, but also in decoration, in mosaics, and in miniatur-painting as well. The basilica of St. Mark at Venice, supposed to contain the remains of the saint brought thither in 828 from Alexandria, is adorned with columns garnered in the East; and the campanile has an “ascent by a continuous inclined plane built between an inner and outer wall and turning with a platform at each angle of the tower” which reminds one at once of the ascent in the Pharos at Alexandria. Like the minaret, the campanile could be either round or square. Most of the early examples are round; but square ones are not wanting, e.g., at San Giovanni Evangelista, San Francesco and San Michele in Affricisco in Ravenna. And like the minaret, the campanile was at first not an integral part of the church building. It was generally placed near to it, sometimes even leaning upon it; until in the church spire it became almost a necessary part of every Christian place of worship.
It seems to me, therefore, that a possible explanation of the sudden appearance of the campanile in Italy during the eighth and ninth centuries, would be that they are due to Mohammedan influence. Whether this influence came from Egypt, or from Syria and Mesopotamia, or even from the Maghreb, is a point upon which I should not like to insist. But this much does seem to follow from a study of history of the monuments, that the old idea of the Ziggurat or tower in some way connected with worship at a shrine has filtered down to us through the Mohammedan minaret and finds its expression to day in our church steeple.