Lighthouse of Alexandria

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The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, was a tower built between 280 and 247 BC on the island of Pharos at Alexandria, Egypt. Its purpose was to guide sailors into the harbour at night time.

With a height variously estimated at between 393 and 450 ft (120 and 140 m), it was for many centuries among the tallest manmade structures on Earth. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Contents

History

Pharos was a small island just off the coast of Alexandria. It was linked to the mainland by a man-made connection named the Heptastadion, which thus formed one side of the city's harbor. The tower erected there guided mariners at night, through its fire and reflective mirrors, as well as being a landmark by day.

Construction and destruction

The lighthouse was completed in the 3rd century BC. After Alexander the Great died unexpectedly at age 32, Ptolemy Soter announced himself king in 305 BC, and commissioned its construction shortly thereafter. The building was finished during his son Ptolemy Philadelphos's reign.

Legend holds that Ptolemy forbade Sostratus to put his name on his work. But the architect left the following inscription on the base's walls nonetheless:

"Sostratus of Cnidus, son of Dexiphanes, to the Gods protecting those upon the sea" (original Greek inscription: "ΣΟΣΤΡΑΤΟΣ ΔΕΞΙΦΑΝΟΥ ΚΝΙΔΙΟΣ ΘΕΟΙΣ ΣΩΤΕΡΣΙΝ ΥΠΕΡ ΤΩΝ ΠΛΩΙΖΟΜΕΝΩΝ")

These words were hidden under a layer of plaster, on top of which was chiseled another inscription honoring Ptolemy the king as builder of the Pharos. After centuries the plaster wore away, revealing the name of Sostratus.

The lighthouse was badly damaged in the earthquake of 956, then again in 1303 and 1323. The fullest description of it comes from the Arab traveller Abou Haggag Youssef Ibn el-Andaloussi, who visited the structure in 1165 AD. His description runs:

... The doorway to the Pharos is high up. A ramp about 183 metres (600 ft) long used to lead up to it. This ramp rests on a series of curved arches; my companion got beneath one of the arches and stretched out his arms but he was not able to reach the sides. There are 16 of these arches, each gradually getting higher until the doorway is reached, the last one being especially high.

There are ancient claims the light from the lighthouse could be seen from up to 29 miles (47 km) away. Unconfirmed legends claim the light from Pharos could burn enemy ships before they reached shore.

Constructed from large blocks of light-coloured stone, the tower was made up of three stages: a lower square section with a central core, a middle octagonal section, and, at the top, a circular section. At its apex was positioned a mirror which reflected sunlight during the day; a fire was lit at night. Extant Roman coins struck by the Alexandrian mint show that a statue of a triton was positioned on each of the building's four corners. A statue of Poseidon stood atop the tower during the Roman period. The Pharos' masonry blocks were interlocked, sealed together using molten lead, to withstand the pounding of the waves.[1]

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