Lighthouse of Alexandria Facts

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was the most famous lighthouse in the World up until the Middle Ages and it was classed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is believed to have been the first ever lighthouse to have been built. The lighthouse was constructed in the 3rd century BC and destroyed by earthquakes between the 12 and 14th centuries.

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Lighthouse of Alexandria Facts for Kids

 

  • The Lighthouse at Alexandria was built to guide boats into the harbor at Alexandria. A fire was burnt at the top by night, helping ships to safely enter the port, while a mirror was used by day to reflect the sunlight.
  • It was built in three sections, each section slightly smaller than the lower one. The lowest was square shaped, the second an octagon and the third a cylinder. It is thought that the lighthouse was around 350 feet (110 meters) tall with a spiral staircase to reach the top.
  • At the time of its construction it was one of the tallest buildings in the World and it served as a model for future lighthouses.
  • It is thought to have been built by Sostratus of Cnidus for Ptolemy I of Egypt, although it was finished during the reign of his son, Ptolemy II.
  • The ruins of the lighthouse were used to build Fort Qaitbay in 1477 and some of its stonework has also been found in the harbor itself.
  • Ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria have been discovered underwater and the site is to be preserved as a museum of ancient Alexandria and its lighthouse.
  • Many famous statues that were said to have decorated the area were also found underwater, alongside huge blocks of stone from the lighthouse itself, which likely fell into the sea when the earthquakes struck.
  • The Lighthouse of Alexandria survived until the 12th century, making it one of the longest surviving Wonders of the Ancient World. Only the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Great Pyramid of Giza survived for longer.
  • The lighthouse was built on a tiny island at the entrance to the port of Alexandria. This island was called Pharos, a name which over time has been altered, but is still used to mean lighthouse in many languages, such as phare in French or faro in Italian and Spanish.
  • Modern Alexandria is built on the same site as the ancient city and it is Egypt’s second largest city and main port.

 

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Question: Why was the Lighthouse of Alexandria built?

Answer: When Alexander the Great founded Alexandria, he wanted a new regional capital city with good access to the Mediterranean Sea to improve access across his expanding empire. However, access by sea to his new city was dangerous with shallow spots, reefs and a lack of high places that could serve as lookouts to guide ships.

Upon the Alexander’s death, the region was taken over by Ptolemy I who decided to try to find a solution to reduce the number of ships being wrecked on their approach into Alexandria. He enlisted the help of Sostratus of Cnidus who designed and built the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which resolved the problem, providing a high lookout point from which ships could be guided in safely.

Question: How was the Lighthouse of Alexandria built to last so long?

Answer: The Lighthouse of Alexandria had a large square base that was built from huge stone blocks that were stuck together with molten lead to ensure they would hold tight against the power of the waves. This gave the building a strong, stable base. The tower part of the lighthouse was built in three sections, a square-shaped section, an octagon-shaped section and at the top, a cylinder-shaped section.

To ensure that the structure was as stable as possible each section was made smaller than the one below it. The whole tower was built from light-colored stone blocks and narrowed towards the top. The lighthouse’s design enabled it to last for almost 1,500 years. It was repaired several times in the last few centuries of its existence, and it is thought to have remained in use until early on in the 14th century.