Ancient Wonder of the World: Egypt Approves Plan to Rebuild Pharos of Alexandria
The Pharos of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the most famous lighthouse in antiquity. The incredible feat of ancient engineering stood at an impressive height of 130 meters (430ft) until it was destroyed by an earthquakes in the 14 th century AD. Now it is destined to rise again as Egyptian authorities have just approved plans to rebuild the towering monument.
Hand-colored engraving of the Pharos of Alexandria by Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574). ( Wikimedia Commons )
Built either late in the reign of Ptolemy I or early in the reign of Ptolemy II, around 280 BC, the lighthouse was located on the eastern tip of the island of Pharos. Posidippus of Pella, who lived in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy II, wrote a poem on a piece of papyrus, which recorded its architect as Sostratus of Cnidus. In some descriptions, it is recorded that a huge statue, representing either Alexander the Great or Ptolemy I in the form of the Sun God, Helios, stood on the top of the lighthouse. This would have been an obvious message to anyone entering Alexandria by sea that the city was now under ‘Ptolemaic management’. In addition, this would have demonstrated the euergetism (the doing of good deeds) of the new ruling dynasty.
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17th century sketch of the Pharos of Alexandria ( Wikimedia Commons )
Besides being a propagandistic symbol of Ptolemaic legitimization, the Pharos also served a much more practical function. As with all lighthouses, it was meant to be a guide for sailors to the harbor. As Strabo records, “This was an offering made by Sostratus of Cnidus, a friend of the kings, for the safety of mariners, as the inscription says: for since the coast was harborless and low on either side, and also had reefs and shallows, those who were sailing from the open sea thither needed some lofty and conspicuous sign to enable them to correct their course to the entrance to the harbor. And the western mouth is also not easy to enter, although it does not require so much caution as the other.” From this description, it can be inferred that Alexandria was a very important city in Ptolemaic Egypt, as it was not only its capital, but also its gateway to the Mediterranean. Hence, the building of a lighthouse to ensure that ships, especially those of merchants, could safely arrive at Alexandria’s harbor would have brought economic benefits to the Ptolemies.
The lighthouse was damaged by a series of earthquakes between 3 rd and 12 th centuries and is believed to have been completely destroyed in the early 14 th century. In 1994, hundreds of huge masonry blocks from the original lighthouse were found in waters off the island.
The lighthouse was constructed to protect the ships entering Alexandria’s harbor. ‘The Pharos of Alexandria’, Atlas Jansson Jansonius, 1630 ( Wikimedia Commons )
The lighthouse consisted of three sections: a lower square segment with a central core, a middle octagonal section, and a circular segment at its top. A mirror was used to reflect sunlight during the day, while a fire was lit at night in order to guide ships.
The Cairo Post reports that the plan is to rebuild the lighthouse just a few meters southwest of where it once stood, as the original location is now occupied by the Qaitbay Citadel.
Featured image: The Pharos of Alexandria by Fischer von Erlach, 1656 – 1723 ( Wikimedia Commons )