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
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