The origin of the name Chehel Dokhtaran, which literally means "40 unmarried girls", is very obscure. The most satisfactory explanation that I have heard, (from the Miras Farhangi in Isfahan), is that monuments with this appellation have been built near or on the site of earlier buildings which were reserved for women. The number 'forty' in Persian can signify any large number, and should not be treated precisely. Such 'convents', as we would now call them, may date from pre-Islamic times and have been associated with the cult of the Zarathustran water spirit, Anahita. I am told that when Ala' al-Daula Muhammad rebuilt the fortifications of Isfahan, one of the twelve metal-covered gates which he erected was near this Minaret, and was also known as the gate of 40 virgins. There is also a tomb tower in Damghan, in northern Iran, built some 50 years earlier which shows some similarity in its use of brickwork decoration and is known as Chehel Dokhtaran. This may also have been built close to some such institution for women.

I am not clear as to the rôle of such institutions under Islam, and would welcome any comments or suggestions from readers.

The minaret lies in the northern part of the old jewish quarter of Isfahan, known as Jubareh. There have been jews in Isfahan since the time of the Achamaenid empire although this part of Isfahan is no longer predominantly Jewish. The minaret stands some 21 metres high. The local people also call the minaret "Gar Lang" according to Honarfar, and he tells the story of the derivation of this name from that of an English missionary, Father Garland, who had moved into the area at the start of the twentieth century with the express aim of converting the local jewish population. The minaret was constructed by a certain 'Abu Fath Nahuji according to one of the inscriptions on it.

This minaret stands in a small alleyway leading south from Khiaban-e-Sorush. It is best approached from this street, from which it is moderately visible, as it is otherwise difficult to find amongst the maze of back streets in this old part of the town. It dates from 1107 and the richness and variety of its brickwork decoration show the extent to which this form had been mastered under the Seljuks. The opening in the shaft faces Mecca and is surmounted by a slightly concave arch supported on brick pillars let into the side. A spiral staircase can be seen inside but is not accessible from the alleyway.