CAABA, a part of the temple of Mecca, to which the Mahometans principally address themselves in prayer. It consists of a stone edifice, nearly square, and is said, by the followers of Mahomet, to have been first built by Abraham and his son Ishmael.
The word is Arabic, caaba, and caabah ; a name which some have oiven to this building, on account of its height, which exceeded that of the other buildings in Mecca ; but others, with more appearance of propriety, derive the name from its quadrangular form.
This edifice is so ancient, that its original use, and the name of its builder, are lost in a cloud of idle traditions ; it is not improbable, however, that it was built by some of the immediate descendants of Ishmael. But, whatever was the original destination of the building, it does not seem to have been a temple, as the door was not placed in the middle of the structure ; and for many ages there was no worship performed in it, though the pagan Arabs went in procession round it. It is most probable, however, that the Caaba was primarily designed for religious purposes ; and it is certain, that it was held in the highest veneration long before the birth of Mahomet. Having undergone several reparations, it was, a few years after his birth, rebuilt, on the old foun dation, by the tribe of Koreish, who had acquired possession of it, either by fraud or force. It was afterwards repaired by AbdallA Eben Zobeir, the calif of Mecca ; and again rebuilt by Yussof, surnamed Al Hejaj, in the seventy-fourth year of the Hegira, with some alterations, in the form in which it now remains.
The length of the Caaba is twenty-four cubits, from north to south ; its breadth, from east to west, twenty-three cubits; the door, which is on the east side, is raised four cubits from the ground, and the floor is on a level with the threshold of the door. The Caaba has a double roof, supported by three octangular pillars of aloes-wood. The outside of the building is covered with rich black damask, adorned with an embroidered baud of gold, which is changed every year, and which is provided by the Turkish emperors. At some distance, the Caaba is surrounded, but not entirely, with a circular enclosure of pillars, joined at the bottom by a low balustrade, and towards the top by bars of silver. Without this enclosure, on the south, north, and west sides of the Caaba, are three buildings, which are the oratories, or places where three of the orthodox sects assemble to perform their devotions ; and towards the south-east stands the edifice which covers the well Zemzem, the treasury, and the cupola of Al Abbas. All these buildings are enclosed, at a con . siderable distance, by a magnificent piazza, or square colon ._ nade, covered with cupolas. From each angle of this piazza rises a minaret, with a double gallery, adorned with a gilded spire and crescent, as are the cupolas which cover the piazza. Between the pillars of both enclosures, hang a great number of lamps, which are constantly kept lighted by night.