August 08: The Day the Lighthouse Went Out

2016/08/08 § Leave a comment

On this date in 1303 the Pharos lighthouse was destroyed.

The last-built of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the lighthouse was also one of the final monuments built by the ancient Egyptians.  Dating from the Ptolemaic period, it towered some 300-450 feet high over the island of Pharos off the coast of Alexandria.  In addition to guiding sailors into the harbor, it was a popular tourist destination and provided one of the earliest observation decks in the world.  Although its visual appearance is recorded in numbers of illustrations on prints and stamps, some of its most important technical information–like, for example, the mechanics of its light source–remain a mystery. Although images and written descriptions vary in the details, they agree on its design as a tall tower of distinct stages: a quadrangular base, octagonal middle and cylindrical top.  Access to the top was granted by a great vaulted ramp, which also suggests that animals scaled the tower (they don’t like stairs), probably hauling wood or some other fuel source to the beacon.

The workings of, and later alterations to, the lighthouse are unclear in written sources, which can be vague and conflicting.  They do agree that the building was subject to several earthquakes, many of which damaged it to a greater or lesser extent; occasionally Muslim sultans directed repairs.  That was the case until the early fourteenth century when a massive earthquake shook the building to its foundations, massive stones falling into the sea where they remain today.

Through the twentieth century divers and fishermen have poked around its enticing ruins, occasionally making new finds, like a giant sculpture of Poseidon believed to have been part of its ornament (more of that here).  These hefty relics feed the imagination with ideas of how grand and tremendous this Wonder must have been.

image: old view of the lighthouse (from this source)


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You are currently reading August 08: The Day the Lighthouse Went Out at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.


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