The Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom -

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The Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom
Lighthouse of Alexandria:

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was located on a small island called Pharos near the city of Alexandria. Designed by the Greek architect Sostratos and completed around 270 B.C. during the reign of Ptolemy II, the lighthouse helped to guide Nile River ships in and out of the city’s busy harbor. Archeologists have found ancient coins on which the lighthouse was depicted, and from them deduced that the structure had three tiers: a square level at the bottom, an octagonal level in the middle and a cylindrical top. Above that stood a 16-foot statue, most likely of Ptolemy II or Alexander the Great, for whom the city was named. Although estimates of the lighthouse’s height have ranged from 200 to 600 feet, most modern scholars believe it was about 380 feet tall. The lighthouse was gradually destroyed during a series of earthquakes from 956 to 1323. Some of its remains have since been discovered at the bottom of the Nile.
Before the construction of the lighthouse.

The context:

Nowadays Alexandria is Egypt's second largest city by population, and it is a coastal city of great importance, the country's gateway to the sea. But already in the 3rd century BC, the city was a center of knowledge, in the sense that the world of the time was limited to the Mediterranean and the surrounding kingdoms. The most popular areas were literature, science, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. Many scholars make discoveries that we always remember or that are still used. On the architectural side, it is essentially the monuments that are remarkable. The city is covered with edifice whose purpose is to mark the power of the kingdom. These monuments are built over time, at different times.

By the end of the third century BC, the population had increased considerably. The port before a strong activity, it is around him that will build the famous lighthouse.


Alexandria in Egypt was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, and thanks to its two natural harbors on the Nile Delta, the city prospered as a trading port under the Ptolemaic dynasty (305-30 BCE) and throughout antiquity. A cosmopolitan city with citizens from all over the Greek world, the city had its own assembly and coinage and became a renowned center of learning.

Around 300 BCE Ptolemy I Soter (r. 323 - 282 BCE) commissioned the building of a massive lighthouse to guide ships into Alexandria and provide a permanent reminder of his power and greatness. The project was completed some 20 years later by his son and successor Ptolemy II (r. 285-246 BCE). The structure only added to the impressive list of things to see at the great city which included the tomb of Alexander, the Museum (an institution for scholars), the Serapeum temple, and the magnificent library.

The lighthouse:

According to several ancient sources, the lighthouse was the work of the architect Sostratus of Cnidus, but he may have been the project’s financial backer. The structure was located on the very tip of the limestone islet of Pharos facing the harbors of Alexandria. These two natural harbors were the Great Harbour and the whimsically named Eunostos or 'Harbour of Fortunate Return'. The mainland was linked to the island of Pharos by a causeway, the Heptastadion, which measured around 1,2 km (0.75 miles). The lighthouse, we are informed by a contemporary writer named Poseidippos, was intended to guide and protect sailors and to that end was dedicated to two gods, Zeus Soter (Deliverer)  - whose dedicatory inscription on the tower was made with half-metre high letters - and possibly Proteus, the Greek sea god, also known as the 'Old man of the Sea'.

The lighthouse at Alexandria was certainly not the first such aid to ancient mariners but it was probably the first monumental one. Thasos, the north Aegean island, for example, was known to have had a tower-lighthouse in the Archaic period, and beacons and landmarks were widely used by cities to help sailors across the Mediterranean. Ancient lighthouses were built primarily as navigational aids for where a harbor was located rather than as a warning of hazardous shallows or submerged rocks, although, because of the dangerous waters of Alexandria’s harbor, the Pharos performed both functions.

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