Seven Wonders of Ancient World: Lighthouse at Alexandria

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:05:01
Year Produced: 2009
Description:

Designed to protect commerce sailing in and out of the port of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world -- Pharos, the Alexandria lighthouse -- has proven to be the model for most lighthouses built since.

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Transcript

Lead: Designed to protect commerce sailing in and out of the port of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world -- Pharos, the Alexandria lighthouse -- has proven to be the model for most lighthouses built since.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Almost as if anticipating a modern list of curiosities such as "Ripley’s Believe it or Not," The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was a constantly varying and occasionally updated list of architectural accomplishments maintained by historians such as the Greek scholar Herodotus and Antipater (An-TI-pa-tor) of Sidon. Revisions to the list were made, almost into the modern era, as structures disappeared or new ones were built. On nearly all the lists was the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, built on the island of Pharos in about 290 BCE.

Before Greek King Alexander the Great assumed control of Egypt in 331 BCE, the soon-to-be famous port, Rhacotis (ra-COT-is), was a quiet fishing village in the Nile Delta. Despite its strategic location, the town remained relatively obscure until Alexander and his engineers perceived that it would be an ideal location for a great city and port. Its architect was Dinostratus Rhodius (di-NO-strat-os RHO-di-us), who laid out the municipality along the lines of a grid plan made famous by Hippodamus (hip-PO-da-mus) of Miletus.

Other Greek engineers designed the harbor. They created an innovative two-harbor system that ensured that, no matter from which direction the prevailing winds might blow, shipping vessels would be able to come in and go out. Nevertheless, since Alexandria was not a natural port such as Ostia or Corinth, engineers had to be creative to prevent ships from crashing on the reefs or running aground in shallow water.

The potential solution for that problem lay on Pharos, a small limestone island just off the peninsula of Alexandria. Named for Pharoah, the ancient ruler of Egypt, Pharos had been the subject of fact and legend for some time, having been mentioned for instance by Homer in "The Odyssey." The structure of the lighthouse has been emulated by builders ever since it was permanently established. Constructed for approximately $10 million in today's currency, it consisted of three segments: a 60 meter high cylinder; resting on top of that was a 30 meter high octagonal tower and above that a 15 meter high square room that contained the beacon. Atop that was often placed the statue of a god or ruler.

The identity of the architect of the Lighthouse of Alexandria is shrouded in mystery, but the design was near onto brilliant. In a land that was virtually treeless, the operators of the lighthouse were able to maintain an almost constant beacon utilizing a relatively tiny amount of fuel. The light from a small fire was magnified by plates of polished bronze. So powerful was the light that it could be seen from a long distance at sea.

The Pharos remained standing until sometime in the 14th century, with some historical evidence indicating that it was destroyed around 1303 CE.

Research assistance by Caroline Cobert, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.