The Great Lighthouse Of Pharos
By James Donahue
At the time of its construction about 280 BC, the lighthouse on the island of Pharos, off the coast
of Alexandria, Egypt, stood an estimated 450 feet tall, was considered one of the tallest man-made structures on Earth, and
was counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Constructed of large blacks of red granite, the tower was designed in three stages, a square base
on which stood a tall octagonal section and a circular tower resting on top of this. It was said a fire was lit at the top
of the tower each night and a large mirror was placed behind the fire. This reflected the light of the flames by night and
the sun by day to guide ships to the harbor of Alexandria.
It was said a statue of Poseidon was mounted atop the tower during the Roman period.
The lighthouse construction was ordered by the Macedonian general, Ptolemy Soter, who declared himself
ruler of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. It took 12 years to complete and was finished during the reign of Ptolemy
Philadelphos, the son of Ptolemy Soter.
To stand against the elements, they said the masonry blocks were interlocked and sealed together with
This great lighthouse, which became a model for lighthouses to be erected throughout the known world
at that time, stood and remained in use for the next 1,500 years, finally being destroyed by two major earthquakes in 1303
and 1323. The final earthquake left the structure in ruins.
The remains of the great lighthouse are still there, but the large blocks of granite were used by
the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt to build a medieval fortress, which still stands on the site today.
What was once the Island of Pharos also has disappeared. A land bridge has since been constructed
between the island and the mainland, thus forming an entrance to the harbor of Alexandria where ships still ply.
Some remains of the lighthouse still exist in the waters on the floor of the city’s Eastern
Harbor. They were discovered by French archeologist Jean-Yves Empereur in 1994. The remains are visited by sport divers who
come to the area.
There are stories that the light from the Pharos lighthouse could be seen for up to 30 miles out to
sea and that the beam was so bright it could blind sailors and set enemy ships ablaze. This has given birth to a myth that
the ancient Egyptians had some way of producing an electric powered lamp which used with a concave mirror could create this
No proof of such a lamp has ever been found at the site, however.