In Turkey and previous to that the Ottoman Empire, at least as early as the 16th century – 20th century, various units of length of the cubit type. In theory, they became obsolete when Turkey adopted the metric system in 1934; in fact, some use continued.
The longest is the builder’s cubit, the mi‘mār arşını, a unit of length used in architecture, = 24 parmaks = 240 ḫaṭṭ, approximately 75.774 centimeters¹ (approximately 29.8 inches). It was fixed by Selim III, who ruled from 1789 to 1807. A measurement of his standard in 1869, on the first adoption of the metric system, gave a value of 75.8 cm.
Prior to Selim this unit varied considerably. Özdural² identifies three: “72.1 cm around 1520, 73.4 cm in the fourth quarter of the sixteenth century, and 76.4 cm in the third quarter of the eighteenth century”.
1. United Nations, 1966. UN 1955, reports it as 78.8 cm (31.0 inches), which is probably a typographical error for 75.8.
2. Alpay Özdural.
Sinan's Arşin: A survey of Ottoman architectural metrology.
Muqarnas, vol. 15 (1998).
The çarşı arşını is a unit of length used for measuring textiles, approximately 68 centimeters (about 26.8 inches). (United Nations, 1966)
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Last revised: 28 December 2002.