Lighthouse of Alexandria
Lighthouse at Alexandria
Written for the KidsKnowIt Network by: Meredith Tennant
The Seventh Wonder of the World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, was a marvel that attracted sightseers even when it was first built, sometime between 290 and 247 BC. It was as tall as a 40-story skyscraper, and had giant statues of gods watching over the seafarers.
Ptolemy I Soter, commander of Alexandria, in Egypt, commissioned the building, but it took 12 years to build, during which time he died, so his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, oversaw the completion. A Greek man, Sostratos, is thought to have been the architect. He was forbidden to put his name to his work so, sneakily, he inscribed his name and a dedication, then covered it with plaster, into which he inscribed the name of Ptolemy. With time, the plaster crumbled away, revealing his own.
A small island called Pharos lay just off the coastal city of Alexandria. The lighthouse was built on Pharos and connected to the city by a granite causeway, supported by huge arches, that was the length of seven stadions, hence its name, Heptastadion. A stadion, an ancient Greek unit of length, measured 600 feet. The construction of the Heptastadion created two city harbors, the Eunostos to the west, and the Portus Magnus to the east.
Using massive blocks of red granite, hundreds of slaves, and costing 800 talents (the equivalent of several million dollars), construction began. Although exact measurements are uncertain, the design is known. First came the foundation level, about 20 feet high. The blocks were joined together with molten lead to withstand the lashing of the sea. Above the base tier was built a quadrangular floor, 183.4 feet high. It had a cylindrical core with a spiral ramp, up which pack animals could carry firewood. At each corner of this tier were, it is believed, huge statues of Triton. Above the quadrangular floor came an octagonal structure, 24 feet tall, with an open cupola on top, within which either a fire burned or a giant mirror reflected the sun. There were more statues at this level, perhaps of Poseidon or Zeus. The whole structure was covered with white washed limestone. Imagine this building, perhaps 384 feet tall, with a great light shining from the top, beckoning the way to safety for sailors up to 35 miles out to sea.
The Heptastadion led visitors to an entrance part of the way up the base level. Inside there were many rooms, each with windows and vents to allow the wind to pass through. There was a viewing platform on top of the first level, and another at the top of the octagonal section.
Some texts tell of a huge mirror, perhaps polished bronze, that was used not only as a beacon, but as a magnifying glass, intensifying the suns rays until they could set fire to enemy ships.
The lighthouse was so famous that pharos became the root word for lighthouse in many languages.
It survived for nearly two thousand years, with some damage and repairs, but eventually a major earthquake brought it down on August 8, 1303. The ruins remained until 1480 when many of the stones were used in the construction of a fort that stands today.
Underwater divers have discovered fragments of enormous statues, and blocks of stone, sphinxes, columns, and inscribed obelisks. These pieces, believed to be remnants of the Seventh Wonder of the World, can now be seen in a museum in Alexandria.