Pharos of Alexandria
the son of Dexiphanes, the Cnidian, dedicated this to the Saviour
Gods, on behalf of those who sail the seas.
inscription of the Lighthouse
particular monument is the towering miracle of Alexandria which
is an ample example of the superbly advanced and technologically
impeccable architecture of the ancient era.Of the Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World, only one had a practical use in addition to
its architectural elegance: The Lighthouse of Alexandria. For sailors,
it ensured a safe return to the Great Harbor. For architects, it
meant even more: it was the tallest building on Earth. And for scientists,
it was the mysterious mirror that fascinated them most... The mirror
which reflection could be seen more than 50 km (35 miles) off-shore.
story of the Pharos starts with the founding of the city of Alexandria
by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.. Alexander
started at least 17 cities named Alexandria at different locations
in his vast domain. Most of them disappeared, but Alexandria in
Egypt thrived for centuries and continues even today.
Alexander the Great
choose the location of his new city carefully. Instead of building
it on the Nile delta, he selected a site some twenty miles to the
west, so that the silt and mud carried by the river would not block
the city harbor. South of the city was the marshy Lake Mareotis.
After a canal was constructed between the lake and the Nile, the
city had two harbors: one for Nile River traffic, and the other
for Mediterranean Sea trade. Both harbors would remain deep and
Shortly after the
death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C, his commander Ptolemy Soter
assumed power in Egypt. He had witnessed the founding of Alexandria,
and established his capital there.Under Ptolemy the city became
rich and prosperous. Off of the city's coast lies a small island:
Pharos. Its name, legend says, is a variation of Pharaoh's Island.
The island was connected to the mainland by means of a dike - the
Heptastadion - which gave the city a double harbor.However, it needed
both a symbol and a mechanism to guide the many trade ships into
the busy harbor And so,because of dangerous sailing conditions and
flat coastline in the region, the construction of a lighthouse was
The project was
conceived and initiated by Ptolemy Soter around 290 BC, but was
completed after his death, during the reign of his son Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Sostratus, a contemporary of Euclid, was the architect, but detailed
calculations for the structure and its accessories were carried
out at the Alexandria Library/Mouseion.The lighthouse's designer
was Sostrates of Knidos. Proud of his work, Sostrates, desired to
have his name carved into the foundation. Ptolemy II, the son who
ruled Egypt after his father, refused this request wanting his own
name to be the only one on the building. A clever man, Sostrates
had the inscription:
SON OF DEXIPHANES OF KNIDOS ON BEHALF OF ALL MARINERS TO THE SAVIOR
chiseled into the
foundation, then covered it with plaster. Into the plaster was chiseled
Ptolemy's name. As the years went by the plaster aged and chipped
away revealing Sostrates' declaration.
The lighthouse was
built on the island of Pharos and soon the building itself acquired
the name. The connection of the name with the function became so
strong that the word "Pharos" became the root of the word "lighthouse"
in the French, Italian, Spanish and Romanian languages.
The monument was
dedicated to the Savior Gods: Ptolemy Soter (lit.
savior) and his wife Berenice. When it was completed some twenty
years later, it was the first lighthouse in the world and the tallest
building in existence, with the exception of the Great Pyramid.
For centuries, the Lighthouse of Alexandria (occasionally referred
to as the Pharos Lighthouse) was used to mark the harbor, using
fire at night and reflecting sun rays during the day. It was even
shown on Roman coins, just as famous monuments are depicted on currency
Of the six vanished
Wonders, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was the last to disappear. Therefore
we have adequately accurate knowledge of its location and appearance.
Ancient accounts such as those by Strabo and Pliny the Elder give
us a brief description of the "tower" and the magnificent white marble
cover. They tell us how the mysterious mirror could reflect the light
tens of kilometers away. Legend says the mirror was also used to detect
and burn enemy ships before they could reach the shore.
In 1166, an Arab traveler,
Abou-Haggag Al-Andaloussi visited the Lighthouse. He documented a
wealth of information and gave an accurate description of the structure
which helped modern archeologists reconstruct the monument. It was
composed of three stages: The lowest square, 55.9 m (183.4 ft) high
with a cylindrical core; the middle octagonal with a side length of
18.30 m (60.0 ft) and a height of 27.45 m (90.1 ft); and the third
circular 7.30 m (24.0 ft) high. The total height of the building including
the foundation base was about 117 m (384 ft), equivalent to a 40-story
modern building. The internal core was used as a shaft 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. In ancient times,
a statue of Poseidon adorned the summit of the building.
There are two detailed
descriptions made of the lighthouse in the 10th century A.D. by Moorish
travelers Idrisi and Yusuf Ibn al-Shaikh. According to their accounts,
the building was 300 cubits high. Because the cubit measurement varied
from place to place, this could mean that the Pharos stood anywhere
from 450 to 600 feet in height, although the lower figure is more
The design was unlike
the slim single column of most modern lighthouses, but more like the
structure of an early twentieth century skyscraper. There were three
stages, each built on top of the lower. The building was constructed
of marble blocks with lead mortar. The lowest level was probably more
that 200 feet in height and 100 feet square, shaped like a massive
box. Inside this section was a large spiral ramp that allowed materials
to be pulled to the top in horse-drawn carts.
On top of this section
was an eight-sided tower. On top of the tower was a cylinder that
extended up to an open cupola where the fire that provided the light
burned. On the roof of the cupola was a large statue of Poseidon.
The lower portion of the building contained hundreds of storage rooms.
The interior of the
upper two sections had a shaft with a dumbwaiter that was used to
transport fuel up to the fire. Staircases allowed visitors and the
keepers to climb to the beacon chamber. There, according to reports,
a large curved mirror, perhaps made of polished metal, was used to
project the fire's light into a beam. It was said ships could detect
the light from the tower at night or the smoke from the fire during
the day up to one-hundred miles away.
There are stories
that this mirror could be used as a weapon to concentrate the sun
and set enemy ships ablaze as they approached. Another tale says that
it was possible to use the mirror to magnify the image of the city
of Constantinople from far across the sea to observe what was going
on there. Both of these stories seem implausible, though.
The lighthouse was
apparently a tourist attraction. Food was sold to visitors at the
observation platform at the top of the first level. A smaller balcony
provided a view from the top of the eight-sided tower for those that
wanted to make the additional climb. The view from there must have
been impressive as it was probably 300 feet above the sea. There were
few places in the ancient world where a person could ascend a man-made
tower to get such a perspective.
THE RUINATION OF THE MAGINIFICIENT TOWER
When the Arabs conquered
Egypt, they admired Alexandria and its wealth. The Lighthouse continues
to be mentioned in their writings and travelers accounts. But the
new rulers moved their capital to Cairo since they had no ties to
the Mediterranean. When the mirror was brought down mistakenly, they
did not restore it back into place. In AD 956, an earthquake shook
Alexandria, and caused little damage to the Lighthouse. It was later
in 1303 and in 1323 that two stronger earthquakes left a significant
impression on the structure. When the famous Arab traveler Ibn Battuta
visited Alexandria in 1349, he could not enter the ruinous monument
or even climb to its doorway.
THE END OF THE MONUMENT
The final chapter
in the history of the Lighthouse came in AD 1480 when the Egyptian
Mamelouk Sultan, Qaitbay, decided to fortify Alexandria's defense.
He built a medieval fort on the same spot where the Lighthouse once
stood, using the fallen stone and marble.
How did the world's
first lighthouse wind up on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea? Most
accounts indicate that it, like many other ancient buildings, was
the victim of earthquakes. It stood for 1,500 years but was damaged
by tremors in 365 and 1303 A.D. Reports indicate the final collapse
came in 1326.
There is also an unlikely
tale that part of the lighthouse was demolished through trickery.
In 850 A.D. the Emperor of Constantinople, a rival port, devised a
clever plot to get rid of the Pharos. He spread rumors that buried
under the lighthouse was a fabulous treasure. When the Caliph at Cairo
who controlled Alexandria heard these rumors, he ordered that the
tower be pulled down to get at the treasure. It was only after the
great mirror had been destroyed and the top two portions of the tower
removed that the Caliph realized he'd been deceived. He tried to rebuild
the tower, but couldn't, so he turned it into a mosque instead.
As colorful as this
story is there does not seem to be much truth in it. Visitors in 1155
A.D. reported the Pharos intact and still operating as a lighthouse.
Although the Lighthouse
of Alexandria did not survive to the present day, it left its influence
in various respects. From an architectural standpoint, the monument
has been used as a model for many prototypes along the Mediterranean,
as far away as Spain. And from a linguistic standpoint, it gave its
name -- Pharos -- to all the lighthouses in the world... Just look
up the dictionary for the French, Italian, or Spanish word for lighthouse.
RECENT FINDINGS AND ARCHAELOGICAL SURVEYS
In the fall of 1994
a team of archaeological scuba divers entered the waters off of Alexandria,
Egypt. Working beneath the surface they searched the bottom of the
sea for artifacts. Large underwater blocks of stone were marked with
floating masts so that an Electronic Distance Measurement station
on shore could obtain their exact positions. Global positioning satellites
were used to further fix the locations. The information was then fed
into computers to create a detailed database of the sea floor.
scientists were using some of the most high-tech devices available
at the end of the 20th century to try and discover the ruins of one
of the most advanced technological achievements of the 3rd century,
B.C.: The Pharos. It was the great lighthouse of Alexandria, one of
the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Did the divers actually
find the remains of Pharos in the bottom of the harbor? Some of the
larger blocks of stone found certainly seem to have come from a large
building. Statues were located that may have stood at the base of
the Pharos. Interestingly enough, much of the material found seems
to be from earlier eras than the lighthouse. Scientists speculate
that they may have been recycled in the construction of the Pharos
from even older buildings.
There are plans to
turn this site into an archaeological park with a lighthouse museum.
In a few years visitors maybe able to rent snorkle gear and wet suits
and dive in the bay among the remains of the great Pharos lighthouse.
The Pharos of Alexandria,in
Egypt, was the forerunner of modern lighthouses. Can you imagine that
the modern light houses that one can see today have been in existence
since ancient times and shame on the architects of this day whose
structures are not even partly as elegant or as strong as the Great
Light House of yore!