The Wonders of the World: The Pharos of Alexandria

Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Pharos (Lighthouse) of Alexandria, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, was located on the island of Pharos connected by a causeway to Alexandria, Egypt. It was built between 280 and 247 BC by the Pharoah Ptolemy Soter (the general of Alexander the Great who took control of Egypt on Alexander’s death) and his son Ptolemy Philadelphos. The tower, through an arrangement of fire and reflective mirrors, guided mariners at night and served as a landmark during the day. It was the only Wonder that had a practical use.

Lighthouse on Bronze Coin

Constructed by the Greek architect Sostratus from large blocks of light-colored stone sealed with lead, the Lighthouse was described as a monumental edifice with three tiers—consisting of a lower quadrangular one, surmounted by an octagonal layer and topped by a cylindrical section.  In 1166, an Arab traveler, Abou-Haggag Al-Andaloussi visited the Lighthouse and described the tiers in detail. The lowest tier was square and 184 feet high with a cylindrical core; the middle tier was octagonal with a side length of 60 feet and a height of 90 feet and the top third tier was circular 24 feet high. The total height of the building including the foundation base was circa 384 feet, about the height of a 40-story building. In the top tier, the mirror reflected sunlight during the day while fire was used during the night that could be seen from 29 miles away. It was topped by a statue of Poseidon.

The Medieval Castle

The Lighthouse was badly damaged by numerous earthquakes, the worst being in 956 AD, 1303 and 1323.  When Pierre I de Lusignan, the king of Cyprus, attacked Alexandria, the Mamluk ruler dumped rubble (including the lighthouse) from the ancient city into the harbor entrance to prevent the invasion. In 1480, Qait Bey, the Sultan of Egypt, built a fort on the site using some of the fallen stone.   The Lighthouse was the last Wonder to be destroyed, leaving only the Pyramid of Giza mostly intact.  In 1994 French archeologists discovered the remains of the lighthouse and other monuments on the floor of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour. Some of the remains were recovered and placed on public display. 

Tomorrow, Chichen Itza   Rita Bay

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