The Pharos of Alexandria

Plutarch wrote in his Life of Alexander how the conqueror had a dream wherein he was visited by an old man who recited the following words:

"Now there is an island in the much-dashing sea, In front of Egypt; Pharos is what men call it."

Alexander recognised the words from Homer's Odyssey and made his way to the small island of the Egyptian shore. He judged the site perect and ordered a city to be build there.

It is thought Ptolemy Soter, one of Alexander's finest generals and ruler of Egypt after Alexander died, started construction of the Lighthouse. His son Ptolemy Philadelphus inaugurated it around 285BC.

The Lighthouse tower was said to be over 100 meters tall and stood on the eastern tip of the island. Three stages, the first square, the second octagonal, and the third round made up the tower. A ramp let up to the entrance, from which stairs spiraled up to the top floor where the fire burned. According to some sources large mirrors or even giant lenses were used to concentrate the light and extend the range of the Lighthouse's visibility. Several sources state there was a statue on top of the Lighthouse of either Poseidon or Zeus. Others suggest there were two statues of Castor and Pollux based on an inscription referring to the Divine Saviours a phrase normally used to refer to Zeus' twin sons.

The tower was probably the longest surviving World Wonder, with the exception of the Great Pyramid, as it surviuved well into the 14th Century. In the near two thousand years of its existence it suffered through some 20 odd earthquakes, one of which, in 796AD destroyed the top of the tower. A hundred years later sultan Ibn Touloun built a mosque on the summit. The Arabs must have been proud of the Lighthouse as frequent repairs were ordered, including those ordered by Salah el Din (Saladin) in 1272.

In 1303 a serious earthquake struck the South East of the Mediterrenean and severely damaged the Lighthouse. By 1349 the Lighthouse was a ruin and was repalced by a fortress almost a century later.

Image from Thiersch study.

Strabo one of the Ancient World's greatest travellers wrote the following about the Lighthouse in the late 1st Century BC.

As for the lighthouse in Alexandria, many Egyptians and Alexandrians believe it to have been built by Alexander son of Philip of Macedonia.... Others believe it was queen Dalukka who built it and made of it an observatory to dispel whatever enemy approaches the country.... He who built it constructed it upon a glass base in the shape of a crayfish submerged under the sea on the edge of the promontory that extends from the sea to the shore. He placed on the top of it statues made of brass and other materials. One of the statues pointed with the index of its right hand constantly towards the sun in its diurnal course. If [the sun] was in the middle of its trajectory, the finger pointed out its position. If the sun was sinking towards the horizon, the statue's hand was also lowered, turning continuously with it.

Other sights in Alexandria