Seven Wonders of Ancient World: Great Lighthouse of Alexandria

In the fall of 1994 a team of archaeological divers leaded by the archeologist Jean Yves Empereur donned scuba equipment and entered the waters off of Alexandria, Egypt. Working beneath the surface, they searched the bottom of the sea for artifacts.
Ironically, these scientists were using some of the most high-tech devices available at the end of the 20th century to try and sort out the ruins of one of the most advanced technological achievements of the 3rd century, B.C... It was the Pharos, the great lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria worked by 15 centuries and it was the last of the six lost wonders of the ancient world that disappeared. It was one of the greatest architectural feats of the antiquity.
Besides, the Lighthouse was the only wonder that was constructed with practical purposes; since it helped seafaring ships to find the harbor safely. The lighthouse served also as a military lookout for approaching enemy ships and a tourist balcony, because it had two observation platforms.

Founding of Alexandria

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 (big ego huh?). Most of them disappeared, but Alexandria in Egypt thrived for many centuries, served as Egypt’s capital for Ptolemy Dynasty, and is prosperous even today.
Alexander the Great chose 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 and the activity they allowed made the city very wealthy.


Alexander died in 323 B.C. and the city was completed by Ptolemy Soter, the new ruler of Egypt. Under Ptolemy the city became rich and prosperous. However, it needed both a symbol and a mechanism to guide the many trade ships into its busy harbor. Ptolemy authorized the building of the Pharos in 290 B.C. The lighthouse was built on the island of Pharos and soon the building itself acquired that 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 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 one other. The building material was stone faced with white marble blocks cemented together with lead mortar. The lowest level of the building, which sat on a 20 foot (6m) high stone platform, was probably about 240 feet (73m) in height and 100 feet (30m) square at the base, shaped like a massive box. The door to this section of the building wasn't at the bottom of the structure, but part way up and reached by a 600 foot (183m) long ramp supported by massive arches. Inside this portion of the structure was a large spiral ramp that allowed materials to be pulled to the top in animal-drawn carts.
On top of that first section was an eight-sided tower which was probably about 115 feet (35m) in height. On top of the tower was a cylinder that extended up another 60 feet (18m) to an open cupola where the fire that provided the light burned. On the roof of the cupola was a large statue, probably of the god of the sea, Poseidon.
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. The construction cost was said to have been 800 talents, an amount equal today to about three million dollars.

Destruction of the Lighthouse

During its three first centuries the Lighthouse was used mainly with practical purposes. By the first century AD in the Roman time the Lighthouse served mainly as a landmark or day beacon.
In 796 the Lighthouse would have lost its upper storey and 100 years later the sultan Toulun (868-884) built a domed mosque on the summit. By 950 several cracks began to appear in the walls of the tower.
The Lighthouse dominated the Harbor during many centuries, in 1183 the Muslim traveler Ibn Jubayr visited Alexandria and described the Lighthouse thus: “Description of it falls short, the eyes fail to comprehend it, and words are inadequate, so vast is the spectacle”.
Unfortunately two major earthquakes in 1303 and 1323 damaged seriously the tower; according to the Arab traveler Ibn Battuta, in this time, it could not enter into the ruins of the Lighthouse. In 1480 the remains of the Lighthouse finally disappeared, since the Sultan of Egypt Qaitbay, used several stones of the Pharos to build a fort, therefore several stone blocks of the Lighthouse can be seen in the walls of the Fort Qaitbey, these stone blocks are clearly visible because of their big size compare to the other blocks of the walls.

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