Lighthouse of Alexandria: History, Location & Destruction

Instructor: Bailey Cavender

Bailey teaches High School English, has taught history, and has a master's degree in Anthropology/Historical Archaeology.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also called the Pharos of Alexandria, was built in the 3rd century BC. It would be destroyed by earthquakes in the 14th century CE, though pieces of it still survive today.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were amazing pieces of architecture that existed in classical antiquity. Although the only one left standing today is the Great Pyramid of Giza, other sites included the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. This was also referred to as the Pharos Lighthouse, named for the island it was built on. ''Pharos'' became the etymological root for the term ''lighthouse'' in many languages.

Alexandria

Alexandria was one of the largest cities in Egypt during the Hellenistic Age (323-31 BC), so named because Greek culture dominated in the Mediterranean. This was largely thanks to Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered much of the Mediterranean world (including Egypt) and spread Greek culture where he went. The city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, who actually named multiple cities after himself in lands that he conquered. After Alexander's death in 323 BC, his generals divided up his large empire amongst themselves. One of these generals, Ptolemy I Soter, became the new ruler of Egypt.

Alexandria was connected to both the Mediterranean and the Nile River, which helped connect the trade routes in Europe and the Middle East. The city was also the home of the famous Library of Alexandria, a place where people from all over the Mediterranean came to learn. Soon, it was decided that with so many people sailing in and out of Alexandria, there was need for a beacon of some sort to guide ships into the port.

Ptolemy I Soter commissioned the lighthouse on the island of Pharos as a guide to the port, and as a way to showcase the wonder and wealth of the city. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built by a man named Sostratus of Cnidus, and construction was finished by Ptolemy I Soter's son and heir, Ptolemy II.

Description

Built in the 3rd century BC, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was a technological marvel. It was said to be one of the tallest buildings at the time, with an estimated height of 200-600 feet. Most historians estimate that it was closer to 450 feet tall. The lighthouse was made of stone, some pieces weighing 50-75 tons. It also had a mirror that some said could reflect light 35 miles away. The lighthouse was made up of three levels: a square base, an octagonal middle, and a cylindrical top. These three levels were all built at different times during the construction, and then put together.

Many believe that the lighthouse also served as a tourist attraction, which was supported by its status as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There were said to be statues of Greek gods and goddesses that decorated the lighthouse. Some historians have found records indicating that food was sold on the upper level, which also contained a small balcony that looked out to sea.

Destruction and Discovery

Though it is no longer standing, the Lighthouse of Alexandria did stand for almost 1,500 years. It survived several Egyptian regime changes and conflicts, including the one that led to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. During the Battle of Alexandria in 30 BC, the last ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra, was defeated and Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.

Despite this drastic change and others that would follow, the lighthouse continued to stand and be used for centuries. In the 10th century CE, it was badly damaged during an earthquake, which caused the lighthouse to develop some serious cracks. To minimize the damages, it was made about 40 meters shorter during that time. Some work was done to restore the lighthouse in the late 1200s, but unfortunately, more earthquakes in the 1300s caused further damage to the structure. It was completely destroyed by 1400 CE.

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