The Pharos of Alexandria

Antipater’s list was the based for the modern day “7 Wonders List”. But it was slightly different in that one of the wonders was not the Lighthouse at Alexandria, instead it was the Wall of Babylon. This was because in the 6th century C.E., there was still remains of the lighthouse that amazed people, but the Wall of Babylon had completely crumbled, so the list was changed as no one could see for themselves if the Wall of Babylon was greater than the Pharos of Alexandria.

Ptolemy II (son of Ptolemy from the Colossus of Rhodes) had a big problem on his hand. The City of Alexandria (named after Alexander the Great himself, and is now the second largest city in Egypt) was built on flat land. This made it difficult for sailors to spot the harbor miles away, and following the coastline might get them into perilous shoal waters. And even if they were able to get to the harbor, the most dangerous of the shoal waters was across the entrance, so if you took the wrong path it was likely you were going to be shipwrecked on the island of Pharos, where you would find unfriendly pirates. Obviously this made trade extremely difficult.  Alexandria still prospered though, but it was a major port that many merchants needed to get to in order to trade. There needed to be a landmark for sailors to spot, and hopefully both by night and day. The best solution—a lighthouse.

The architect who constructed the lighthouse was Sostratus. He did receive help from mathematicians of Alexandria’s museum, and from books of the infamous Library of Alexandria, and with that help he created a structure that greatly surpassed both Ptolemy’s and the Egyptians’ high standards. It was composed of granite and limestone blocks with a surface of white marble. The exact height is unknown, but it is almost certain that it was as least 394 ft. high. There were three levels: the first was used to house the workers needed to operate the lighthouse. The second was a very decorated level, and had many viewing platforms for the citizens to enjoy. The third was were a huge reflector was used for the light so that ships could see. In the daytime the reflector used light from the sun, and in the night it used a large bonfire. The lighthouse was built on the island of Pharos, the island that many sailors were shipwrecked onto, and it now means lighthouse in many languages, hence the title of the wonder.

However, my favorite part of the whole story was what happened when the lighthouse was completed. Sostratus knew that the lighthouse had to be dedicated to Ptolemy and his wife, but like Herostratus, he wanted to be remembered. So he wrote the words, “Sostratus, son of Dexiphanes the Cnidian, dedicated this to the Savior Gods, on behalf of all those who sail the seas.” into the dedicatory inscription and hoped that one day the plaster would crumble and the words would be revealed. It is still a mystery to this day that if the plaster ever came off, and wether or not it was seen by Ptolemy.

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