Home History 30 Interesting Pharos Lighthouse Facts

30 Interesting Pharos Lighthouse Facts

by Sankalan Baidya
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30 Interesting Pharos Lighthouse Facts

The ancient world keeps eluding us. Shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, the world still gives us many things to look up to with awe and inspiration. This long lost ancient world was no less wonderful than the world we live in today. Just like our 7 wonders of modern world, the ancient world had its list of 7 wonders. The Pharos Lighthouse is one of them. Let us today travel back in time and learn 30 interesting Pharos Lighthouse facts, which we are sure, will make your jaws drop and force you to utter the word, ‘really?’…

Interesting Pharos Lighthouse Facts: 1-10

1. The Pharos Lighthouse, also known as Lighthouse of Alexandria holds the crown of being the first ever lighthouse in world.

2. This lighthouse was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world for not only being the first of kind but also for being the tallest architectural structure of that time except the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

3. Talking of time, the light house was built during the ancient times. Its construction started in 290 BCE. It took 20 years to complete the construction of the lighthouse and was covered with white marbles.

4. The then cost of building the lighthouse was 800 talents, which equals to 3 million US dollars in today’s context.

5. As far as its height was concerned, the Pharos Lighthouse stood 450 feet tall (however, the measurements may not be accurate).

6. The design of the lighthouse was not anywhere even close to the modern day lighthouse structures. It resembled the structure of 20th century skyscrapers.

7. While modern lighthouses are all single tubular columns, the Pharos Lighthouse was built in three stages with each stage being atop the other stage.

8. The building itself sat on a stone platform which was 20 feet high.

9. The lowest level of the lighthouse had a base of 100 feet and was almost 240 feet high. The base was square in shape and looked very much like a huge box.

10. Sitting on top of this level was a tower with eight sides and accounted for the next 115 feet of the total height of the lighthouse.

Interesting Pharos Lighthouse Facts: 11-20

11. Finally, sitting on the top was the cylindrical tower, adding another 60 feet to the overall length of the lighthouse.

12. This final section of the lighthouse opened into an open cupola where a fire was lit to provide the light.

13. The final length of the lighthouse was added by a huge statue that stood on top of the roof of the cupola. It was probably the statue of Poseidon but some say it was the statue of Zeus.

14. Burning the fire required fuel and it carried by dumbwaiter attached to a shaft that was constructed in the tower’s upper two sections.

15. There was a large curved mirror made of polished bronze on the top that was used to reflect the light of the fire as a beam far into the sea. It is being said that light beam reflected from the mirror could be seen from as far as 35 miles out into the sea.

there are sources and evidences that go on to prove that the Pharos Lighthouse indeed used a mirror and an electric searchlight

16. According to the accounts of Pliny the Elder, the light was visible 465 kilometers out into the sea. Statius (40-96 CE) stated that the light of the Pharos Lighthouse looked like a moon at night. This literally sounds impossible with the beam of light made from fire. This was only possible if some kind of electric light was used. As a matter of fact, there are sources and evidences that go on to prove that the Pharos Lighthouse indeed used a mirror and an electric searchlight. [Source: History Inside Pictures, The Electric Mirror on the Pharos Lighthouse and Other Ancient Lighting. Further suggested readings: 30 Interesting Electricity Facts, A Short History of Ancient Electricity]

17. According to legends, the mirror was also used for burning enemy ship by concentrating sunlight on the approaching enemy fleet.

18. It is being said that the roof of the lowest section of the lighthouse was liberally decorated by statues of god Triton. Two stone structures depicting the torso of a woman have been salvaged by recent archeological excavations which support the claim.

19. The most befitting question at this stage is – how and why was the very idea of building a lighthouse started? Alexandria in Egypt was the started by Alexander the Great. It was one of the 17 cities of the same name but it is the only one to survive.

20. The location of Alexandria in Egypt was a very well thought out. Instead of selecting Nile delta for building the city, Alexander selected went 20 miles to the west where the mud and silt deposited by the river would not block city harbor.

Interesting Pharos Lighthouse Facts: 21-30

21. The construction of the city did start but was not completed before the death of Alexander in 323 BCE. After the death of Alexander, the new ruler of Egypt – Ptolemy Soter continued building the city. The city was not only completed but over time, it grew rich and prosperous.

22. It was Soter who commissioned the construction of the lighthouse as a symbol for the city and also as a guidance for merchant ships. 300 slaves were put to work who tirelessly worked for 20 years to complete the lighthouse.

23. The lighthouse was designed by Sostratus of Knidos but some historians believe that he was only a financer. Whatever the case be, Sostratus wanted his name carved on the lighthouse’s foundation but this was not acceptable to Ptolemy II, who was son of Ptolemy Soter and the then ruler of Egypt when the construction of the lighthouse was completed.

24. Sostratus chiseled an inscription on the foundation of the lighthouse and then covered it with plaster. He carved the name of Ptolemy on the plaster knowing that over years, as the plaster chips off because of erosion, the inscription that read Sostratus’ name will eventually show up. The inscription that was chiseled on the foundation was “SOSTRATUS SON OF DEXIPHANES OF KNIDOS ON BEHALF OF ALL MARINERS TO THE SAVIOR GODS”.

25. The lighthouse was actually built on an island named Pharos and hence the name Pharos Lighthouse.

26. It’s no wonder that this ancient lighthouse once acted as a tourist attraction. The first level acted as an observation platform and also possibly had a small balcony on the top of the 8-sided tower, which was actually the middle section of the lighthouse.

27. The lighthouse stood the test of time for 1500 years. A series of earthquakes followed by a tsunami in 365 AD did damage the Pharos Lighthouse but the damage was very little.

28. In 10th century CE, another series of tremors inflicted cracks on the lighthouse, which called for a restoration work but then the height of the building was reduced by 70 feet.

29. The final blow came in form of a major earthquake in 1303 that shook the entire Mediterranean and one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world went out of business. However, the Egyptian records say that the final collapse took place in 1375 with some of the remains of the lighthouse stayed until 1480.

30. A very unlikely story about the destruction of the Pharos Lighthouse also exist. As per the alternate story, the Emperor of Constantinople aired rumors in 850 CE that a huge treasure is buried beneath the lighthouse simply because he wanted to get rid of the lighthouse because it belonged to a rival nation. The then ruler of Alexandria, the Caliph of Cairo, fell for the trap and started demolishing the building and by the time he destroyed the top to sections of the tower, he realized that it was nothing but a plot but it was too late. He tried restoring the lighthouse but failed and instead, built a mosque on the second tier. This story however cannot be true because in 1115 CE, Moorish travelers visited the place and reported a completely functional lighthouse.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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3 comments

Sam January 27, 2015 - 6:14 pm

Just love ur blog. Can u tell how exactly the electric light worked on the lighthouse?

Reply
Sankalan Baidya January 27, 2015 - 6:18 pm

Sam, it was probably an electric carbon arc lamp. We will try and answer your question in details in some other article or probably as a supplement to this facts list.

Its really nice to know that you love our blog. Thanks!

Reply
amanda January 18, 2017 - 8:05 pm

this is a good site my first time being on it do yall have more

Reply

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