The Great Lighthouse at Pharos

Life in Ancient Alexandria



One of the most expensive and celebrated of all the edifices that they reared was the lighthouse of Ancient Alexandria.

This lighthouse was a lofty tower, built of white marble.



light house of Ancient Alexandria



It was situated upon the island of Pharos, opposite to the city of ancient Alexandria, and at some distance from it.

There was a sort of isthmus of shoals and sand-bars connecting the island with the shore.

Over these shallows a pier or causeway was built, which finally became a broad and inhabited neck.

The principal part of the ancient Alexandria city, however, was on the main land.

The curvature of the earth requires that a light house on a coast should have a considerable elevation, otherwise its summit would not appear above the horizon, unless the mariner were very near.

To attain this elevation, the architects usually take advantage of some hill or cliff, or rocky eminence near the shore.

There was, however, no opportunity to do this at Pharos; for the island was, like the main land, level and low.

The requisite elevation could only be attained, therefore, by the masonry of an edifice, and the blocks of marble necessary for the work had to be brought from a great distance.

The ancient Alexandria lighthouse was reared in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the second monarch in the line.

No pains or expense were spared in its construction.

The edifice, when completed, was considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

It was indebted for its fame, however, in some degree, undoubtedly to the conspicuousness of its situation, rising, as it did, at the entrance of the greatest commercial emporium of its time, and standing there, like a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, to attract the welcome gaze of every wandering mariner whose ship came within its horizon, and to awaken his gratitude by tendering him its guidance and dispelling his fears.

The light at the top of the tower was produced by a fire, made of such combustibles as would emit the brightest flame.

This fire burned slowly through the day, and then was kindled up anew when the sun went down, and was continually replenished through the night with fresh supplies of fuel.

In modern times, a much more convenient and economical mode is adopted to produce the requisite illumination.

A great blazing lamp burns brilliantly in the center of the lantern of the tower, and all that part of the radiation from the flame which would naturally have beamed upward, or downward, or laterally, or back toward the land, is so turned by a curious system of reflectors and polyzonal lenses, most ingeniously contrived and very exactly adjusted, as to be thrown forward in one broad and thin, but brilliant sheet of light, which shoots out where its radiance is needed, over the surface of the sea.

Before these inventions were perfected, far the largest portion of the light emitted from by the illumination of lighthouse towers streamed away wastefully in landward directions, or was lost among the stars.

Of course, the glory of erecting such an edifice as the Pharos of ancient Alexandria, and of maintaining it in the performance of its functions, was very great; the question might, however, very naturally arise whether this glory was justly due to the architect through whose scientific skill the work was actually accomplished, or to the monarch by whose power and resources the architect was sustained.

The name of the architect was Sostratus.

He was a Greek. The monarch was, as has already been stated, the second Ptolemy, called commonly Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Ptolemy ordered that, in completing the lighthouse tower, a marble tablet should be built into the wall, at a suitable place near the summit, and that a proper inscription should be carved upon it, with his name as the builder of the edifice conspicuous thereon. Sostratus preferred inserting his own name.

He accordingly made the tablet and set it in its place.

He cut the inscription upon the face of it, in Greek characters, with his own name as the author of the work.

He did this secretly, and then covered the face of the tablet with an artificial composition, made with lime, to imitate the natural surface of the stone.

On this outer surface he cut a new inscription, in which he inserted the name of the king.

In process of time the lime moldered away, the king's inscription disappeared, and his own, which thenceforward continued as long as the building endured, came out to view.

The lighthouse at Pharos was said to have been four hundred feet high.

It was famed throughout the world for many centuries; nothing, however, remains of it now but a heap of useless and unmeaning ruins.


You may also be interested in...



Return to Alexandria Page

Return Home