The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, is one of the World's Seven Wonders and the most well-known lighthouse in antiquity. It was a technological accomplishment that has served as the model for all lighthouses thereafter. The word "pharos" means "bright light" in Greek.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built in the 3rd century BC by Alexander the Great at the entrance to the Bay of Alexandria. It was made out of limestone with marble decorations and used oil lamps as its source of light. The lamp was enclosed within a cylindrical stone shell with a mirror set into its inner surface so that its rays were reflected up towards the sky where they could be seen from far away. This design is said to have been inspired by the Sun God Ra, who was worshipped with pharoahs throughout Egypt at this time.
The tower was originally painted red, white and blue but now only the white part remains due to damage caused by an earthquake in 1971. Today it is covered in green glass, but when it was first constructed it would have been visible for miles around. The original height of the lighthouse was 40 meters (130 feet), but today it is only 15 meters (50 feet) high.
Alexander the Great wanted to create a port city on the Mediterranean coast, but after his death in 323 BC his generals fought each other for power.
A Tribute The Alexandria Lighthouse was designated the Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World. It was one of the longest-standing wonders due to the great quality of its architectural design. Following the earthquakes that destroyed the lighthouse, most of the stone was utilized to construct a fortification in the same location. Today, only the foundation remains.
The lighthouse was an amazing feat of architecture for its time. Its use of large blocks of stone without any mortar is equivalent today to using concrete. It is estimated that there are still five or six such lighthouses in the world today that were built with material transported over 200 miles (320 km) from Mount Thaumasus in Greece to serve as Alexandria's harbor defense.
Construction on the Alexandria Lighthouse began in 283 B.C. under the reign of Ptolemy II. It was completed after 13 years at a cost of about $200,000. The lighthouse was designed by Dinocrates of Rhodes and is said to have been modeled after the one at Diospolis in Egypt. Although this is disputed, it does bear a striking resemblance to the Lighthouse of Alexandria as we know it today.
In A.D. 643, during the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the lighthouse was burned down in retaliation for Christianity's destruction of pagan temples. However, it was rebuilt within two years by order of the governor.
The Lighthouse eventually outlasted the Greek and Roman civilizations. After centuries of keeping seafarers safe, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was eventually destroyed by an earthquake about 1375 A.D. Some of its blocks were stolen and used to construct a fortress for Egypt's Sultan, while others fell into the sea. Today, only the keepers' houses remain standing.
The Romans blew up the second-oldest functioning lighthouse in the world in 190 A.D., when they fired rockets into it for the night watchman not to see. The Greeks did the same thing almost two thousand years later in 1856.
The last operational light beacon on Earth was extinguished in 1917. During World War II, German U-boats would attack ships at night without warning. This meant that crews had no time to alert passengers to seek shelter or turn off engines. Since submarines could not be seen from far away, this also meant that there was no way for sailors to know if they were heading into a danger zone. Without any lights showing them the way, ships would run straight into these predators and hundreds of lives were lost. After the war was over, engineers realized that modern lighthouses should include some type of mechanical signal to give drivers warning of their approach.
The last operational manned lighthouse was located in Alexandria, Egypt. It was closed in 1917 after several accidents caused by the use of lamps at night without warning occurred.
Alexandria's Lighthouse The lighthouse was built of light-colored stone and molten lead to make walls sturdy enough to resist the smashing waves. It reached around 450 feet tall. The bottom level was square, the middle level was octagonal, and the upper level was round. There were windows in all three levels for visibility. The light itself could be turned on or off at will. It used oil lamps until 1793, when a small electric generator was installed.
The Pharos was an ancient Egyptian word that was adopted by the Greeks for this kind of monument. It means "lightning" or "firebrand." In Greek mythology, Pharos was the name of one of Poseidon's sons who had the power to shoot fire from his eyes. Like his brother, he was given in marriage to Europa, the daughter of Zeus and Europa. When her father discovered what she had done, he ordered both of them to give him a wedding gift. So Pharos donated the first astronomical observatory to Europe, and Europa built a large bronze statue of her husband.
In Egypt, the pharaohs used lighthouses as symbols of their power and as ways to keep track of their provinces. After they died, their bodies were taken to cities throughout the world for burial. Because there were no airports back then, ships were used to transport the dead kings across land and water.