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Harbour & Lighthouse of Alexandria

Harbour & Lighthouse of Alexandria

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The Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was begun by Ptolemy in the Third Century BC and completed by his son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, on the island of Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt.

With an estimated height of 380 to 660 feet, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Colossus of Rhodes and the Mausoleum of Mausollos.


Pharos was a small island just off the coast of Egypt, near the city of Alexandria. The island was linked to the mainland by a man-made bridge. Together, the island of Pharos and the bridge formed half of Alexandria’s harbour.

Because of Egypt’s low-lying coastal geography and lack of geographical features, a lighthouse was determined to be necessary in order to make it easier for ships to find the entrance to Alexandria`s harbour. The Lighthouse originally functioned as a landmark, providing ships with a visual aid for navigation during the day. The Lighthouse is traditionally pictured with either a light-reflecting mirror or a signal fire. It is thought that these were added by the Romans in the First Century AD.

Description of the Lighthouse

According to legend Ptolemy had forbidden Sostratus, the architect of the Lighthouse, from engraving his name anywhere on the structure. Sostratus did so anyway and the following inscription was carved on the inside of the Lighthouse. “Sostratus, the son Dexiphanes, the Cridian, dedicated this to our Saviour gods on behalf of all those who sail the seas.” He then had this inscription covered with plaster. On top of that he had another inscription carved, this one praising Ptolemy as the builder of the Lighthouse. Over time, plaster wore away and Sostratus’ hidden inscription was revealed.

In 1166, the Arab traveller, Abou Hagana Youssef Ibn Mohammed el-Andaloussi wrote an account of his visit to Alexandria, which included a description of the Lighthouse.

He described the Lighthouse as being built on the far end of the island and wrote that the island of Pharos was almost totally surrounded by water, except on the south and east sides. He also wrote that the Lighthouse measured 28 feet per side and that it was specially strengthened on the seaward side in order to withstand the pounding action of the waves. The interior of the Lighthouse was accessed by a 600 foot ramp.

This description of the Lighthouse has come under scrutiny however, as some scholars claim that the dimensions given in the el-Andaloussi account are not correct. These assertions are based on a drawing of the Lighthouse done by German archaeologist Hienrich Thiersch in 1909. Based on the scale of the foreground objects in the drawing, the Lighthouse appears to be approximately 80 feet per side, while the el-Andaloussi account claims that the Lighthouse measured 28 feet per side.

Construction and Destruction of the Lighthouse

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was constructed with limestone blocks and built in three sections. The bottom section was square-shaped and built around a central core. The middle section was octagonal, while the upper section, which housed the signal beacon, was circular.

Roman coins depict the Lighthouse adorned with statues of Poseidon and Triton, the son of Poseidon and the messenger of the sea.

The Lighthouse suffered increasing amounts of damage from earthquakes between the 10th and 14th Centuries. By the 15th Century, the structure had collapsed into a pile of rubble. In 1480, the Lighthouse had mostly collapsed into the harbour. The Sultan of Egypt used some of the remaining blocks to build Fort Qaitbay on the same site.

The first remains of the Lighthouse were uncovered on the harbour floor in 1994, with additional ruins having been identified since on satellite and sonar images.

Works CitedPetersen A.: Dictionary of Islamic Architecture, page 188. Routledge, 1996.

Ancient Alexandria of Egypt: History and Reconstruction

Screenshot of ancient Alexandria (reconstruction) from Assassins Creed: Origins by Ubisoft Studios

Posted By: Dattatreya Mandal January 7, 2020

Short History of Alexandria –

Alexander the Great possibly christened around 70 settlements from Africa to Asia after his own name (along with at least one after his horse’s name). The small Egyptian port town of Rhacotis, with his natural harbor and proximity to the Nile delta, was one of those ‘chosen’ settlements, and it was thus rechristened ‘Alexandria’ in 331 BC. But of course, beyond just the new name, the tiny port was also reinvigorated with a brand new suburb constructed beside the old town – with the plan apparently conceived by Alexander himself. And this is what Strabo had to say about the city after almost 300 years of its (re)founding –

The city has magnificent public precincts and royal palaces which cover a fourth or even a third of the entire area. For just as each of the kings would, from a love of splendor, add some ornament to the public monuments, so he would provide himself at his own expense with a residence in addition to those already standing.

Suffice it to say, Alexandria was a thriving city by 1st century BC, known for the grand Temple of Serapis (Serapeum) that was adjoined to the Great Library of Alexandria. And while the city aptly secured its cultural status as a great center of learning, it also flaunted its commercial glory with the Pharos Lighthouse – constructed on an island by the polis and considered as one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. And the good news for us history enthusiasts is – most of these fascinating architectural high-points are presented through a superb 3D animation concocted by the folks over at AncientVine.

As the video makes it clear at the beginning, the recreation pertains to the setting of this Egyptian metropolis circa 51 BC. It should be noted that after the fall of Carthage (in 146 BC), Alexandria was also dominated by the Roman sphere of influence – so much so that by 80 BC, many parts of the city possibly passed under nominal Roman leverage. In any case, circa 51 BC, the Ptolemies (Cleopatra’s dynasty) still had control of Egypt, which paved the way for their bitter embroilment in two successive Roman civil wars.

And by 30 BC, their entire Egyptian realm was formally annexed by Rome, and Alexandria was declared as a province of the newly formed Roman Empire under the directive of Augustus. The city, however, continued to thrive as the second-largest metropolis of the empire, and evolved as one of the classical centers of learning of Greek disciplines, like philosophy and mathematics, till 4th century AD.

The Great Library of Alexandria –

One of the largest libraries of the ancient times, the Great Library of Alexandria was dedicated to Muses, the nine goddesses of art. And in spite of its eminence, the grand library’s founding is still lost in legend – with most scholars agreeing that the impressive institution was initially established by Ptolemy I (305-285 BC), but was fully completed during Ptolemy II’s reign (285-246 BC). It was the latter ruler who took the brilliant (yet surprising) initiative of sending invitations to other kings to contribute their books and tomes to the library.

On many levels, the search for books almost took the obsessive route – with even commercial ships being thoroughly inspected by the authorities for papyrus rolls (that were either confiscated or returned after copies were made). On other occasions, the royal members of Egypt sponsored special trips to well-known book-fairs (like in Athens and Rhodes) for acquiring various rare specimens of literary works. One significant incident mentioned by Galen (which may have been an anecdote), refers to how Ptolemy III paid fifteen talents (1,000 lbs/450 kg) of precious metal to the Athenians for procuring the original scripts of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

In any case, there is no doubt that the Great Library of Alexandria was a massive structure, with various estimates pointing out that it could hold over half-a-million books. It is also said that Marcus Antonius gifted Cleopatra over 200,000 books for the Royal Library – though this figure might just be a bit fanciful. As for the architectural scope of the library structure, it was possibly joined with the Serapion (or Serapeum), the magnificent Temple of Serapis.

Showcasing a brilliant ‘fusion’ of both Egyptian and Greek architectural elements, the ‘collective’ campus boasted various spatial features, including specific rooms for reading and dining, lecture halls, gardens, colonnaded walkways, and of course the great hall with its array of organized bookshelves. It should also be noted that the library was probably a part of a bigger complex that belonged to the umbrella institution of the Musaeum of Alexandria (or Institution of the Muses). This Musaeum was the focal point for learning of various disciplines, like the philosophical schools (such as a Platonic Academy), music and poetry schools, and the library with its storehouse for a multitude of tomes.

The Serapeum of Alexandria –

The reconstruction above was created in-game for Assassins Creed: Origins by Ubisoft Studios. As mentioned in the earlier paragraph, the Serapeum of Alexandria was a massive temple precinct (which possibly adjoined with the Library or an offshoot of the Library) dedicated to Serapis (or Sarapis), the Greco-Egyptian deity of the Sun. Possibly devised as an entity by the ruling Ptolemy dynasty, the deity served as a cultural bridge between the Greeks and the native Egyptians. With the passage of time, Serapis was also associated with the aspects of fertility and healing.

Coming to the scope of the Serapeum itself, the magnificent structure, built during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (circa 246 – 222 BC), was said to be the largest and most beautiful of all the Greek temples of Alexandria. Interestingly enough, the temple was perched atop an elevated ground (acropolis) and was possibly constructed on the foundations of an older Greek temple that was erected by Ptolemy I Soter (the companion of Alexander the Great). Suffice it to say, the sheer scale of the sprawling building, accentuated by the imposing elevation, was a conspicuous landmark during the ancient times. Unfortunately, much of the structure was later destroyed by mobs of rioting Christians in circa 391 AD.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria –

One of the rare instances of Greek architecture that went beyond human scale to ‘godly’ dimensions, the Lighthouse of Alexandria (also known as the Pharos of Alexandria) constructed by the Ptolemaic Kingdom (possibly by Ptolemy I Soter), may have been the tallest structure in the ancient world, with some accounts mentioning its height to soar up to an incredible 492 ft. Unfortunately, since the building is not extant, we have to revert to its lowest possible height in accordance with other literary sources – which was still impressive at 377 ft (or 115 m). As Judith McKenzie from the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford made it clear –

The Arab descriptions of the lighthouse are remarkably consistent, although it was repaired several times especially after earthquake damage. The height they give varies only fifteen per cent from c 103 to 118 m [338 to 387 ft], on a base c. 30 by 30 m [98 by 98 ft] square…the Arab authors indicate a tower with three tapering tiers, which they describe as square, octagonal and circular, with a substantial ramp.

Now in terms of design, the Lighthouse of Alexandria built from light-hued stone blocks was vertically divided into three components – the lowermost (and broadest) square section with four huge facades, the thinner middle section with an octagonal plan, and the upper-most slimmest section with a circular plan. The functionality of the enormous structure was related to this upper level, with a mirror being installed atop it that reflected sunlight during the daytime, while the fire was lit during the night. And given the sheer volume of the facades, the arranged stone-blocks of the ancient lighthouse were supposedly reinforced with molten lead so as to withstand the force from the incoming sea waves. Given such advanced engineering credentials, it comes as no surprise that the Lighthouse of Alexandria was considered among one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Harbour Lights Lighthouses

For the seafaring men of yesteryear, there existed no more welcoming sight than the harbor lights of home. They were much more than just a signal beacon. They lit the path through darkness, storms, and fog. Each harbor community prized their lighthouse it was built with integrity and unique flair, and was depended upon to bring their men safely home.

Harbour Lights was created to honor these pillars of American tradition. Not only were they sentinels of safe harbor many were uniquely crafted examples of American architecture. Built with local materials and workmanship, they were designed to compliment the landscape and last for generations. Because each lighthouse so uniquely typified both the region and the people they served, they are treasured as historical icons.

Bill Younger, founder of Harbour Lights, studied and admired lighthouses for both their architecture and their history. Realizing that many people shared his passion, he worked with master sculptors to devise a method of creating exact miniature replicas to offer to collectors. In 1991 his wife and daughters helped him choose seventeen lighthouses to commemorate. Each was carefully researched, and the sculptures were correct in scale and detail. Limited edition replicas were made, each sold with a numbered certificate of authenticity.

harbour lights lighthouse, 20, “”, “stock”

Lighthouses are more than just architecture. They are an integral part of history for those whose livelihood came from the sea. In order to help preserve that history, Younger formed the Harbour Lights Collectors’ Society in 1995, to serve both collectors and historians. Their painstaking research reveals not just the history of each lighthouse itself, but the region it served and the people who depended upon it. It is recorded and shared through the Society along with the limited edition replicas.

The politics are bigger than the lighthouse

Since the 1990s, Alexandria’s public spaces have been subjected to an ideology of revivalism. This involves resurrecting cosmopolitan-era fixtures like gas-light lamp posts, and placing statues of figures like Alexander the Great and Cleopatra in public spaces. The crowning achievement of revivalism was the unveiling of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in 2002.

While revivalism brought some benefits, it has more to do with political branding, in which the state imposes a narrative from above upon the public. Furthermore, these nostalgic motifs frequently act as a guise for neoliberalism. Historically, Alexandria is treated like the political laboratory for Egypt’s reckless economic experiments.

Had the governorate been sincere about revivalism and preserving the heritage of the city, it would have saved countless monarchical-era villas from destruction. Preserving what we already have counts far more than any lighthouse bells-and-whistles project. But the reality is not about amplifying Alexandria’s rich cultural history as much as it is about vulgarly commercialising aspects of this history at the expense of the public good. There is not even one proposed lighthouse design faithful to its ancestor of antiquity, which was built out of limestone, granite and white marble. Rather, it will be something resembling a watered-down version of Burj Khalifa.

One investor proposed “relocating” the iconic Citadel of Qaitbay to build the lighthouse in its place. The thoughtless idea was quickly quashed. But it shows what the city is up against.

Figure 3: The Pharos “Hotel”| designed by the Alexandria Mediterranean Research Center and Studio Bertocchini & Ruggiero

“Capitalism talks here,” says Islam Asem, director of the Tourist Guide Syndicate. “If these investors could destroy the pyramids and build something profitable in its place, they would not hesitate for a moment.” It is largely faceless investors sitting on boards who are making the decisions, Asem laments, not academics, cultural workers or UNESCO.

Asem states that the proposed lighthouse location would further weaken the grounds holding up the fragile citadel, and destroy the Greco-Roman ruins under the seabed. This is not to mention the aesthetic disruption of the Alexandria skyline by having a modern building next to the citadel. Asem says it’s better for the project to be constructed far away, in Montazah or Aboukir. Nabeel also supports this view.

“A metropolitan city cannot be reduced to its city center,” he says, warning that under this kind of development plan, Alexandria “will see more urban segregation and, hence, urban rebellion.”

That urban rebellion was a familiar trait of the city through the sporadic, pre-revolution upheavals of the 2000s that were spurred on by the privatisation drive. This can only worsen if the city’s soul is further compromised.

The inability to develop a strategic vision for the city is reflective of the city’s high politics. Due to the lack of an electoral mandate, new governors are by default initially met with hesitation by Alexandria’s civil society. This was the case when the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appointed Hany al-Messiry governor in February 2015, especially because left-wing activists were concerned with his free-market economic philosophy.

A number of them allowed him breathing room for a few reasons, however. He was from Alexandria, which fulfils the basic providential nationalism criteria. He was a civilian, and not from the military. He was perceived as refined, due to being educated abroad and having international exposure. Most importantly, he took a favourable approach to working with civil society.

But such strengths were exploited by different groups and power factions. The media started attacking Messiry for bringing his wife with him to meetings. Then hyper-nationalists took issue with him because he was not from the military. Security entities were calling up civil society workers to “discourage” them from meeting with the governor.

This all came to a head when an anti-governor protest was held in late May to protest Messiry’s dual nationality (he holds American and Egyptian citizenship). Demonstrators chanted, “Go out Messiry, Alexandria is free,” while burning the American flag. One source told me the protestors were hired by private contractors after the governor refused to issue new building contracts. It’s notable that the Protest Law was not implemented for this demonstration, and no one was arrested, raising questions of security complicity.

No lighthouse is better than a badly planned lighthouse.

Marianne Sedhom, who co-runs Iskindiriya maba'itsh mariya—an environmental initiative that roughly translates as “Alexandria is no longer pretty”—highlights the obstacles the governor faces. For example, when Messiry issues a decree to halt work on, or to destroy, an illegally constructed building, corrupt elements within a district board will issue building permits to allow more illegal buildings to go up, she claims.

Such is the toxic climate out of which the lighthouse, or any development for that matter, will emerge. This is not to write off the lighthouse as a bad idea. The lighthouse has the potential to be a powerful uniting public icon, bridging the cultural imaginary between the past and the present, solidifying civic identity, attracting tourists, and more. But this is only if it is done appropriately, with transparency and broader public discussion on the matter. No lighthouse is better than a badly planned lighthouse that violates aesthetics and social, heritage, communal and environmental factors.

The historical magnitude of rebuilding the lighthouse requires it to be the result of a clear vision and coherent civic narrative. It should not be built to resolve or eclipse existing divisions. If modern Alexandrian history is any indicator, it will become not the symbol of a communal spirit, but the symbol of excess and a visible target of rage.

There is a lesson to be learned from the unveiling of the ancient lighthouse in 247 BC. After 12 years of construction, the architect Sostratus was under no illusion that he had to dedicate the new monument to Ptolemy and his wife—but he would not allow history to forget his hard work and the people it was intended to serve. So he engraved his words in the stone, then he placed a plaster plaque etched with a dedication to the Ptolemies over it. With time, wind and sea salt ate away at the plaster. Long after the monarch and the architect passed away, the plaster decayed and fell apart, revealing his words: “Sostratus, son of Dexiphanes the Cnidian, dedicated this to the Savior Gods, on behalf of all those who sail the seas.”

With time, the narrative that emerges out of this project might not be the one that the state had intended.


Pharos was a small island just off the coast of Alexandria. It was linked to the mainland by a man-made connection named the Heptastadion, which thus formed one side of the city's harbour. As the Egyptian coast is very flat and lacking in the kind of landmark used at the time for navigation, a marker of some sort at the mouth of the harbour was deemed necessary - a function the Pharos was initially designed to serve. Use of the building as a lighthouse, with a fire and reflective mirrors at the top, is thought to date to around the 1st Century AD, during the Roman period. Prior to that time the Pharos served solely as a navigational landmark.

The building was designed by Sostratus of Cnidus ( Greek: &Sigmaώ&sigma&tau&rho&alpha&tau&omicron&sigmaf &Kappa&nuί&delta&iota&omicron&sigmaf - Sostratos of Knidos or the Cnidian) in the 3rd century BC, after having been initiated by Satrap (governor) Ptolemy I of Egypt, Egypt's first Hellenistic ruler and a general of Alexander the Great. After Alexander died unexpectedly at age 33, Ptolemy Soter (Saviour, named so by the inhabitants of Rhodes) made himself king in 305 BC and ordered the construction of the Pharos shortly thereafter. The building was finished during the reign of his son, Ptolemy II Philadelphos.

According to popular legend, Sostratus was forbidden by Ptolemy from putting his name on his work. But the architect left the following inscription on the base's walls nonetheless: Sostratus, the son of Dexiphanes, the Cnidian, dedicated (or erected) this to the Saviour Gods, on behalf of those who sail the seas (the original Greek inscription

literally means: Sostratos of Dexiphanes [meaning: son of Dexiphanes] the Cnidian to Saviour Gods on behalf of the sea-faring. These words were hidden under a layer of plaster, on top of which was chiselled another inscription honouring Ptolemy the king as builder of the Pharos. After centuries the plaster wore away, revealing the name of Sostratus.

The Pharos' walls were strengthened in order to withstand the pounding of the waves through the use of molten lead to hold its masonry together, and possibly as a result the building survived the longest of the Seven Wonders - with the sole exception of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was still standing when the Muslim traveller Ibn Jubayr visited the city in 1183. He said of it that: "Description of it falls short, the eyes fail to comprehend it, and words are inadequate, so vast is the spectacle." It appears that in his time there was a mosque located on the top. It was severely damaged by two earthquakes in 1303 and 1323, to the point that the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta reported not being able to enter the ruin. Even the stubby remnant disappeared in 1480, when the then-Sultan of Egypt, Qaitbay, built a medieval fort on the former location of the building, using some of the fallen stone. The remnants of the Pharos that were incorporated into the walls of Fort Qaitbey are clearly visible due to their excessive size in comparison to surrounding masonry.

Lighthouse of Alexandria

Lighthouse of Alexandria - aka Pharos Lighthouse
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built by the Ancient Egyptians and is famous as being one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In ancient times, long before there were machines and technology to help them, men built some the most amazing buildings and structures. They were so remarkable they were referred to as the Seven Wonders of the World. The Ancient Egyptians built two of them - the Great Pyramid at Giza and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

Seven Wonders of the World
Before we provide the facts and information about the Lighthouse of Alexandria we will put all those out of their misery who are trying to remember the other Seven Wonders of the World! List of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:

• Great Pyramid of Giza
• Hanging Gardens of Babylon
• Statue of Zeus at Olympia
• Temple of Diana at Ephesus
• Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
• Colossus of Rhodes
• Lighthouse of Alexandria

History of the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to be built and the last of the seven wonders to survive. In 332BC the Greek hero Alexander the Great conquered and occupied Egypt. His general, Ptolemy, became king Ptolemy I Soter (305 BC-282 BC) and established the Ptolemaic dynasty. During this time the city of Alexandria was founded which became famous for the Great Library and the great Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was started during the reign of Ptolemy Soter and completed during the reign of his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus (284 BC-246 BC) the estimated date . The Lighthouse took about 12 years to build.

The Origin of the name 'Lighthouse'
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was originally referred to as the Pharos after the name of the former island where it finally stood. Pharos gave its name to the building and is used as a word for ‘lighthouse’ in several languages (the word phare in French and faro in Italian and Spanish).

Why the Lighthouse of Alexandria was built at Pharos
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was constructed in the ancient city which was founded by Alexander the Great and it achieved growth and prosperity for almost 1000 years. The city was described by the writer Strabo as ‘the greatest emporium in the inhabited world’. Within fifty years of the founding of the city it became the major commercial centre of the ancient Mediterranean and the richest city of antiquity. The entrance to Alexandria was one of the most important ports of the Mediterranean. Trading ships flocked to the city but because of dangerous sailing conditions and the flat coastline, the construction of a lighthouse became necessary.

Location of the Pharos of Alexandria
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was located over 100 metres high on the eastern tip of the Island of Pharos. The island of Pharos was linked to the mainland by a causeway known as the Heptastadion. The construction of the Heptastadion created two harbors. The double harbor was called Portus Magnus to the east and Eunostus to the west. Alexandria flourished around the Eastern Harbor, where the lighthouse stood on Pharos to the west of the entrance.

Who built the Pharos of Alexandria?
The Pharaohs Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II utilised the skills of Sostratus, the son of Dexiphanes, the Cnidian who was the architect of the Lighthouse. Sostratus was a wealthy Alexandrian courtier and a diplomat. Sostratus officially inaugurated the Lighthouse and the dedication on the monument, according to Strabo, read: “Sostratus the Cnidian, friend of the sovereigns, dedicated this, for the safety of those who sail the seas”.

Exterior Description of the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was described various writers of Antiquity including Strabo and Pliny the Elder. However, an Arab traveller called Abou-Haggag Al-Andaloussi visited the Lighthouse in 1166 and docmented a much later description of the Pharos Lighthouse which increased the knowledge of modern scholars and archaeologists and contributed to an understanding of the construction and dimensions of the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was constructed in three phases, each section built on top of the lower. The lowest part was a square measuring 55.9 m (183.4 ft) high with a cylindrical core. The middle part was an octagonal shape with a side length of 18.30 m (60.0 ft) and a height of 27.45 m (90.1 ft). The third part was circular measuring 7.30 m (24.0 ft) high. The total height of the building including the foundation base was about 117 m (384 ft). In ancient times, a statue of Poseidon adorned the summit of the building. There was two viewing galleries where visitors could experience a view from nearly 400 feet high - it must truly have seemed a wonder for any of these travellers. Ancient accounts such as those by Strabo and Pliny the Elder describe the tower as being covered with magnificent white marble, although this is now believed to have been white washed limestone. Inside the structure were A sloping shaft was built to lift the fuel needed for the fire. At the top stage, the mirror reflected sunlight during the day while fire was used during the night.

The Interior of the Lighthouse of Alexandria
The interior of the Lighthouse of Alexandria was massive. It is believed that 364 rooms were built in the Pharos Lighthouse measuring form ten to twenty cubits square. The rooms were designed with vents and windows in order to absorb gusts of wind against the lighthouse reducing the risk of collapse. There were also a series of wide 72 ramps creating access to the top of the lighthouse. The rooms were covered with beams of teakwood and an arch of stones, cemented and decorated. The viewing galleries constructed on the second and third levels of the structure where visitors could experience a view from nearly 400 feet high. Importanto visitors would be lavishly entertained in rooms allocated for this purpose.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria Mirror
The Pharos Lighthouse was fitted with every scientific improvement known to the age. The mirror which was mounted on this lighthouse could reflect the light more than 35 miles off-shore. Theories conflict on how the mirror was made, some say it was made from a highly polished metal whilst others believe it was made from silver-backed glass. There are many legends and myths surrounding the mirror. Some say that the mirror was used as a weapon to concentrate the rays of the sun and to set enemy ships on fire as they approached the harbor. Other myths refer to the use of a powerful telescope which was located at the top of the lighthouse which used refracting mirrors to magnify objects. It was said that the city of Constantinople could be seen from the city of Alexandria. At sundown it was believed that a fire would be lit with the required fuel being transported to the top of the Lighthouse via the system of ramps.

The Destruction of the the Pharos of Alexandria
A series of earthquakes from the 10th to the 14th century contributed to the destruction of the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria. However, the fabulous Pharos Lighthouse survived until the Middle Ages when it was believed to have been attacked in 1365 by the Cypriot king, Pierre I de Lusignan who sacked Alexandria. The site of the Pharos Lighthouse is covered by the Islamic Fort of Kait Bey which was built on, and from, some the ruins of the collapsed lighthouse. The lasting remains of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the last of the Seven Wonders of the World, lie underwater near the entrance to Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour.

Lighthouse of Alexandria
Each section of this Egyptian website addresses all topics and provides interesting facts and information about the Golden Age of Egypt. The Sitemap provides full details of all of the information and facts provided about the fascinating subject of Egypt, the Ancient Egyptians and of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, King Tut.

Harbour & Lighthouse of Alexandria - History

Egypt is famous as the home of the prototype of all lighthouses, the Pharos of Alexandria, built in the early third century BCE. At nearly 120 m (390 ft) it was as tall as a modern skyscraper and much taller than any modern lighthouse. It remained in operation until after the Arab conquest of Egypt in 642 and stood for centuries more, finally collapsing after several earthquakes.

In 1869 the completion of the Suez Canal by a French company linked Egypt's Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts and made the country a strategic crossroads. British troops occupied the county in 1882 and it was more or less a British colony until resuming its independence in 1922.

This page includes lighthouses of Egypt's Mediterranean Sea coast there are separate pages for the Sinai Peninsula and Gulf of Suez and for the Red Sea coast.

Arabic is the official language of Egypt. The Arabic word for a lighthouse is mnarh or manara ( منارة ). Ra's is a cape, jaza'ir or jazirat is an island, shi'b is a reef, shira' is a bay, and marfa is a harbor. Transliteration of Arabic to Latin characters can be done in many ways, so alternate spellings are common.

Aids to navigation in Egypt are operated by the Egyptian Authority for Maritime Safely (EAMS) , an agency of the Maritime Transport Sector. A private company, the Beacon Company of Egypt, maintains many of the lights under contract.

ARLHS numbers are from the ARLHS World List of Lights . Admiralty numbers are from volume N of the Admiralty List of Lights & Fog Signals (prior to 2013 the lights were in volume E with the same numbers). U.S. NGA List numbers are from Publication 113.

General Sources Beacon Company of Egypt - List of Lights This light list provides data on each light, but no photos. The Red Sea lights are not included. Online List of Lights - Egypt Photos by various photographers posted by Alexander Trabas. Photos for this coast are by Rainer Arndt or Capt. Peter Mosselberger ("Capt. Peter"). Lighthouses in Egypt Photos by various photographers available from Wikimedia. World of Lighthouses - Egypt Photos by various photographers available from Lightphotos.net. Afrikanische Leuchttürme auf historischen Postkarten Historic postcard images posted by Klaus Huelse. GPSNauticalCharts Navigational chart for Egypt. Navionics Charts Navigational chart for Egypt.

1869 Port Said Light, Port Said, January 2019
Google Maps photo by Mohamed Ahmed

Western Desert Lighthouses

Ra's Shakik Light, Markaz Al Alamein, April 2012
ex-Panoramio photo copyright Mostafa Maged permission requested

Al-Iskandariyya (Alexandria) Governorate Lighthouses

Great Pass Range Front Light, Alexandria, April 2017
(note 1894 light at lower left)
ex-Google Plus photo by Wael Mamdoh

Great Pass Range Rear Light, Alexandria, February 2018
ex-Google Plus photo by Hisham Abdel Ghani

Ra's el-Teen Light, Alexandria
photo copyright Peter and Carolyn Vehslage used by permission

Montazah Palace Light, Alexandria, January 2013
Wikimedia Creative Commons photo by Taha Ahmed

Nile Delta Lighthouses

New and Old Burullus Lights, Burullus, August 2007
ex-Panoramio photo copyright Hamid Abu-Zeid permission requested

West Breakwater Light, Damietta, January 2014
Flickr Creative Commons photo by camilo g.r.

Suez Canal Entrance Lighthouses

Port Said Entrance Range Lights, Port Said
photo copyright Douglas Cameron used by permission

Port Said East Breakwater Light, May 2001
photo copyright Jürgen Klinksiek used by permission

Sinai Peninsula North Coast Lighthouses

El Arish Light, El Arish, April 2006
ex-Panoramio photo copyright Azat Fahmy used by permission

Information available on lost lighthouses:

  • Lake Menzaleh (1900?-?), Mediterranean coast near Port Said. There is no longer a light at this location. ARLHS EGY-047.

Adjoining pages: East: Gaza | Southeast: South Sinai and Suez | South: Egypt Red Sea | West: Libya

Posted July 25, 2006. Checked and revised April 11, 2021. Lighthouses: 45. Site copyright 2021 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Lighthouse (Pharos) of Alexandria

The Lighthouse of Alexandria on the tiny island of Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt, is the archetype of all subsequent lighthouses and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was one of the last of the original Seven Wonders to be destroyed, after multiple earthquakes reduced most of the original structure to rubble, and the Sultan of Egypt turned it into a medieval fort around 1480.

The lighthouse was commissioned by the first Ptolemy, the Greek general who stayed behind to rule after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, shortly after Ptolemy declared himself pharaoh in 305 BCE. Construction began around 280 BCE during the reign of his son, and took an estimated 33 years to complete, at an expense estimated to be twice that of the Parthenon.

The tower was built in three stages with decreasing size, and stood over 300 feet tall. For centuries, it was one of the tallest manmade structures anywhere, ranking second behind only the Great Pyramid of Giza. Its light was provided by a fire burning close to the top every night, and was enhanced by a burnished bronze mirror. Many ancient descriptions of the tower describe a statue at the tower&rsquos apex, and while many historians believe it was originally a statue of Zeus, it could have been changed to a depiction of a number of different gods or rulers across the centuries.

After being lost for centuries, the ruins were rediscovered on the floor of Alexandria&rsquos harbor in 1994, and it is possible today to visit them while diving.

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In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. On the Egyptian coast, near the island of Pharos, was a small fishing village called Rhacotis. He believed the location had potential as a port, and so founded a city there bearing his name: Alexandria. Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the design of the lighthouse was widely copied and the name pharos became the general term for a lighthouse. [2]

The Greek geographer Strabo, who wrote in the late 1st century B.C. and early 1st century A.D., gave an insight into what made Alexandria suitable as a harbour: “Pharos is an oblong island, is very close to the mainland, and forms with it a harbour with two mouths for the shore of the mainland forms a bay, since it thrusts two promontories into the open sea, and between there is situated the island, which closes the bay, for it lies lengthwise parallel to the shore … the extremity of the isle is a rock, which is washed all round by the sea and has upon it a tower that is admirably constructed of white marble with many storeys and bears the same name as the island”. [3]

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built at the eastern end of the island of Pharos. It is not certain when the Lighthouse was built, for instance source written centuries after the event claim it was built in 297 B.C., while another states it was 283/2 B.C. It was was most likely commissioned during the reign of Pharaoh Ptolemy I Sotor (305� B.C.) who succeeded Alexander the Great. [4] [5] According to Pliny the Elder writing in the 1st century A.D. the light house cost 800 talents to build. This was a tremendous amount to spend, and was a tenth of the contents of the Pharaoh's treasury in 305. B.C. Pliny the Elder, Lucian, and Strabo all attribute the design of the Lighthouse to a man named Sostratus of Cnidus. It has been suggested that Sostratus commissioned the lighthouse rather than designed it, however the formidable cost of the building programme means it is unlikely that anyone other than the Pharaoh could have financed the work. While Pliny asserts that Ptolemy allowed Sostratus to write his name on the monument, Lucian claims that he hid his name underneath the plaster bearing Ptolemy's name. [6] Over time the plaster would decay leaving Sostratus' own inscription.

The earliest depictions of the Lighthouse can be found on Roman coins minted during the reign of Domitian in A.D. 81 󈟌. [7] Earthquakes in 956, 1303, and 1323 severely damaged the Lighthouse. It is uncertain when the Lighthouse was destroyed, but seems to be sometime in the 14th century. A manuscript in the care of the monastery at Montpellier in France dates the destruction to 1308, and Ibn Battuta, who visited Alexandria in 1349 noted the Lighthouse was "in so ruinous a condition that it was possible to enter it or to climb it up to the doorway", though did not note as much when he visited in 1326. [8] In 1477� the Fort Qait Bey was built on the site. [9] Alexandria's coastline has changed significantly since Antiquity, and part of the island of Pharos has become submerged (along with parts of the city itself). [10]

Pharos in culture

The Pharos of Abuqir, an ancient funerary monument thought to be modeled after the Pharos at Alexandria, with which it is approximately contemporaneous

Tower of Hercules, a Roman lighthouse modelled on the Pharos

In architecture

  • A well-preserved ancient tomb in the town of Abu Qir, 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of Alexandria, is thought to be a scaled-down model of the Alexandria Pharos. Known colloquially under various names—the Pharos of Abuqir, the Abuqir funerary monument and Burg al-Arab (Arab's Tower)—it consists of a 3-story tower, approximately 20 metres (66 ft) in height, with a square base, a hexagonal midsection and cylindrical upper section, like the building upon which it was apparently modeled. It dates to the reign of Ptolemy II (285-246 BC), and is therefore likely to have been built at about the same time as the Alexandria Pharos.
  • The Tower of Hercules, near A Coruña in Spain, a 2nd century AD Roman lighthouse, is closely modelled on the Alexandrian Pharos.
  • A replica of the Lighthouse of Alexandria was constructed in the Window of the World Cultural Park in Shenzhen, China.
  • The design of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia was partially inspired by the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
  • The fate of the Lighthouse of Alexandria from the Arab conquest until its collapse in the 14th century has been investigated by Doris Behrens-Abouseif in her article "The Islamic History of the Lighthouse of Alexandria" (in: Muqarnas XXIII [2006], pp. 1-14)

In books

Matthew Reilly uses this ancient wonder as the location of a piece of the golden capstone in his novel that states in the cultural section from Book 2 of the Cambridge Latin Course, the Pharos of Alexandria is mentioned, along with the history of Alexandria, as one of the greatest international ports of the ancient world.

Watch the video: The Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Ancient Port of Alexandria (May 2022).


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