Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the tallest structure in the world until the Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889.

Historians affirm that the construction of the lighthouse was necessary as it ensured a safe return to the Great Harbor for sailors crossing the Mediterranean Sea. For architects, it meant, even more, it was the tallest building on Earth. And for scientists, it was a fascinating and intriguing mystery. It was very impressive piece of piece of architecture that it made its way to be on the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The Lighthouse was used, like the sun by day and fire by night, to make sure that sailors could safely navigate the dangerous waters. The lighthouse stood until 1323 AD when a powerful earthquake destroyed it. Then came Sultan Qayetbay and fortified the place as a part of his coastal defenses and built on its site his castle.


Where is the Lighthouse of Alexandria Located?

It was once located on the southeast corner of Island of Pharos in the city of Alexandria on the north coast of Egypt. 


Why was the lighthouse of Alexandria built?

The lighthouse was used to guide thousands of ships safely into the harbor. During the day, a reflective mirror on the top level of the lighthouse would reflect the sunlight to guide the ships. At night, a fire was used instead. It’s said that it was so effective that it could be seen from 100 miles out to sea.


Who built it?

It was constructed during the reign of Ptolemy II and completed during the reign of Ptolemy during (280–247 BC.)


The Construction of the Lighthouse of Alexandria

The lighthouse was constructed in the 3rd century BC; once Alexander the Great died shortly after leaving Egypt under Greek administration, Ptolemy I Soter made himself king in 305 BC. During his reign, Ptolemy ordered the construction of the Lighthouse. The tall building was concluded during Ptolemy’s successor son’s reign Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

A total of 12 years were needed for the completion of the whole building and a total of 800 talents of silver were used. The Lighthouse was 300 feet tall; the only taller man-made structures at the time would have been the pyramids of Giza. A lot of information about the construction of the Lighthouse of Alexandria remains still just speculations after the tower collapsed due to a powerful earthquake in 1323 AD.

The lighthouse was built from large blocks of light-colored stone. The tower was made of three tapering tiers. The first was a lower square section with a central core; the middle octagonal section; and, at the top, a circular section.


Who was the Architect of the Lighthouse of Alexandria?

The lighthouse was built by the architect Sostratus of Cnidus. Sostratus of Cnidus was a powerful man. He had the ears of kings, a close relation to King Ptolemy I and his son.


Is the lighthouse of Alexandria still standing?

The lighthouse is no longer standing, though it did stand for almost 1,500 years. It survived many Egyptian regimes and conflicts, even the one that resulted in the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.


The Comedown of the Lighthouse of Alexandria 

In 796 and 951, during two earthquakes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was partially damaged but was still standing, but following three more earthquakes in 1303 and 1323, the Lighthouse finally collapsed. The most destructive earthquake is known to be the one in 1303 originating from the Greek Island of Crete. The last remainings of the Lighthouse disappeared in 1480 when the Sultan of Egypt, Qaitbay, ordered the construction of a medieval fort on the platform where the Lighthouse once stood.


The Rediscovering of the Lighthouse of Alexandria

In 1968 during an archeological expedition sponsored by UNESCO, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was rediscovered underwater in the area of the Mediterranean Sea in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. The expedition was led by Honor Frost to the site of the Lighthouse; Frost confirmed the existence of ruins representing part of the lighthouse. The zone was a military zone that ended up putting the exploration on hold.

In 1994, French archeologist Jeans-Yves Empereur uncovered the physical remains of the Lighthouse of Alexandria on the floor of Alexandria's Eastern Harbor. A cinematographer was able to capture the images of the columns and statues found underwater. Most of the findings consisted of giant blocks of granite weighing 40-60 tones each, 30 sphinxes statue, and 5 obelisks columns which carvings dated to Ramses II reign in 1279-1213 BC.

Many other expeditions in the future years continued to find remains of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. To this day, it’s possible for divers to see the underwater remains submerged by the earthquakes. 

UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is currently trying to work with the Government of Egypt to add the Bay of Alexandria to a list of the World Heritage List of submerged sites. In 2016, the Ministry of State of Antiquities in Egypt made a plan to turn submerged ruins of ancient Alexandria, including those of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, into an underwater museum.


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