Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

       The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, was a tower built between 280 and 247 BC on the island of Pharos at Alexandria, Egypt. Its purpose was to guide sailors into the harbour at night time.

With a height variously estimated at between 393 and 450 ft (120 and 140 m), it was for many centuries among the tallest manmade structures on Earth. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

After Alexander the Great died unexpectedly,the city was completed by Ptolemy Soter, the new ruler of Egypt. The city soon became rich. The city needed a symbol and a mechanism to guide the trade ships into its harbor. Ptolemy started building the lighthouse in 290 B.C. It was completed 20 years later and was the first lighthouse of the world.

A man named Sostrates of Knidos designed the lighthouse. Legend holds that Ptolemy forbade Sostratus to put his name on his work. But the architect left the following inscription on the base's walls nonetheless: SOSTRATES SON OF DEXIPHANES OF KNIDOS ON BEHALF OF ALL MARINERS TO THE SAVIOR GODS. These words were hidden under a layer of plaster, on top of which was chiseled another inscription honoring Ptolemy the king as builder of the Pharos. After centuries the plaster wore away, revealing the name of Sostratus.

The lighthouse was built on the island of Pharos. In the 10th century A.D., the lighthouse stood between 450 to 600 feet high. This lighthouse was designed differently than modern lighthouses. It was more like a 20th century sky scraper. There were three stages which were piled on top of each other. There are ancient claims the light from the lighthouse could be seen from up to 29 miles (47 km) away. Unconfirmed legends claim the light from Pharos could burn enemy ships before they reached shore.

The lowest level was about 200 feet square and was shaped like a huge box. The blocks on which the lighthouse was built were marble. There was a staircase in the lighthouse that led the keepers to the beacon chamber. In there, was a curved mirror. It was used to project a fire's light into a beam. Ships could detect the beam from the tower at night or the smoke from it could be seen during the day from up to 100 miles away.

May be you're wondering what happened to the world's first lighthouse. Most accounts say that, like other ancient buildings, it was probably the victim of an earthquake. It stood for 1,500 years but was damaged by tremors in 365 and 1303 A.D. The final collapse came in 1326.
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