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World Wonder

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 molten lead.

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 effect.

No proof of such a lamp has ever been found at the site, however.