The Lighthouse of Alexandria

Sites such as the piihub ( provide insurance for professions such as architects, who have undertaken huge projects for thousands of years. The Lighthouse of Alexandria is arguably the greatest architectural achievement of the third century. Also called the Pharos of Egypt, the construction of the lighthouse began in 290 BC and lasted twenty years. It is believed by many to be the world's first lighthouse. The remains of the lighthouse were found in 1994 by French archaeologists while diving in the Eastern harbour of Alexandria.

Not counting the Great Pyramids, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was the tallest building in the world at the time. The lighthouse location was in Pharos, an island in the Eastern part of Alexandria. Over time, the tower suffered earthquake damages and was eventually in ruins until its discovery.

Its Purpose

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world to have practicality in its design. The Mediterranean Sea trade was a huge part of Egyptís economy. However, the harsh weather did not make it easy for sea travellers. They required help getting in and out of the harbour in Alexandria. Tools for navigating the sea were no available then. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was for that specific purpose.

Artistsí impressions of the lighthouse show that it had a large curved mirror inside. This mirror is what guided sea travellers during the day when it reflected off sunlight. The reflection would indicate the location of the lighthouse to seafarers. For night travels, a fire was lit in the tower to provide guidance.

Architectural Challenges and Solutions

In modern times, lighthouses take the design of single column. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built like a 20th Century skyscraper with three levels. The first level was rectangular structure, the second one an octagon, and the last level was cylindrical. One of the challenges of the design during this period was achieving that height factor. There are conflicting reports about the height of the structure, but 450 ft is the most consistent. At the time, a man-made structure of that height did not seem like a possibility. One problem that tall buildings face is making them structural sound. The solution to this challenge was to build the Lighthouse of Alexandria in three parts.

The location of the lighthouse was also a possible challenge that the builders faced. To serve its purpose, the lighthouse had to be at a location that sea travellers and ships could locate it. Its construction on an island was not easy to accomplish, and it came at great cost and resources.

The build of the lighthouse had to be strong enough to withstand the harsh weather of the Mediterranean seas. Also, the region where the structure was going to stand was prone to earthquakes. Architects had to create a structure that would last through the earthquakes, and they did. The material used to ensure this were limestone blocks with marble facing and lead mortar. Amazingly, the lighthouse stood for about 1,500 thousand years, so itís safe to say that it was strong enough.

The lighthouse had survived a tsunami and two earthquakes before the third one toppled it. It was the second longest surviving wonder of the ancient world. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was an architectural marvel primarily because it sought to go beyond what was common then. It also served a useful purpose and set the trend for future lighthouses. didn't exist then - but with the high design and build standards of the time it probably wasn't necessary!


Copyright Carole Phillips 2007