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7 Wonders of the World

Pyramids of EgyptHanging Garden of BabylonStatue of Zeus
Temple of Artemis at EphesusMausoleum of Halicarnassus
Colossus of RhodesPharos of Alexandria

Pharos of Alexandria

Sostratus, the son of Dexiphanes, the Cnidian, dedicated this to the Saviour Gods, on behalf of those who sail the seas.

Dedicatory inscription of the Lighthouse

        This 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.

History

        The 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 clear.

        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 necessary.

        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:

SOSTRATES SON OF DEXIPHANES OF KNIDOS ON BEHALF OF ALL MARINERS TO THE SAVIOR GODS

        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 today.

Description


        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 likely.

        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.

        Ironically, these 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!

 

Pyramids of EgyptHanging Garden of BabylonStatue of Zeus
Temple of Artemis at EphesusMausoleum of Halicarnassus
Colossus of RhodesPharos of Alexandria






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