How the Alexandria lighthouse was destroyed (2023)

19th-century depiction of the Lighthouse of Alexandria

Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt remains. War, neglect, and natural disasters have wiped them off the face of the earth, leaving only descriptions by ancient historians and geographers, or the occasional coin or painting, as symbols of their greatness. Since the Seven Wonders of the World were first proposed by the Greeks, most of them are in and around Greece, but two are in Egypt.

Of course, as mentioned above, the Great Pyramid of Giza is in Egypt, but next to the pyramid is the younger but equally impressive Lighthouse of Alexandria, often called the “Lighthouse of Lighthouses” and for the Mediterranean island on which it is located stands, is famous . Of all the Seven Wonders of the World, the Alexandria Lighthouse was one of the most functional and helped facilitate trade in and out of Egypt.

Judging by its age, the Alexandria Lighthouse existed in its original form for around 1,000 years, making it one of the longest-lived structures in the Seven Wonders of the World. Since the lighthouse no longer exists, and has been for almost 1,000 years, there are great mysteries about its size and structure, but above all about the mystery of its destruction. Perhaps because it was often confused with and/or included in the famous Library of Alexandria, rumors and lies about the lighthouse's disappearance persisted. Examination of the sources shows that the Alexandria Lighthouse was damaged by various factors, including earthquakes and saltwater erosion. After the Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 642, the lighthouse suffered a natural disaster and its reputation, like that of Alexandria itself, was greatly diminished. For Muslims, Alexander is no longer as important as it used to be. So the Greeks and Romans abandoned the dilapidated lighthouse until they finally changed its function.

lighthouse construction

Although Alexandria is in Egypt, it was founded by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great when he conquered Egypt in 331 BC. BC Reconquered Egypt from the Persians. Alexander liked the location of the area for its natural harbor and he decided to build a city there as a monument to its greatness and to promote the Hellenistic concept of Greece. Construction of the city began with the first Greco-Macedonian ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy I (r. 305–282 BC), who commissioned the architect Dinokrates of Rhodes to lay out the city in a grid pattern, which was quite revolutionary at the time . Time.[1]At the heart of this bold new city is the landmark known as the Pharos Lighthouse, or Lighthouse of Alexandria.

Construction of the lighthouse probably began during the reign of Ptolemy I, but was completed during the reign of his successor, Ptolemy II (284–246 BC). Although there is no consensus among modern historians, many believe that the dyke connecting the mainland to the island of Pharos, the 'Dyke of the Seven Towers', was built during the reign of Ptolemy I, but most of the actual lighthouse is Ptolemy was built by him. during the reign of King Mi II.[2]As in many cases in antiquity, we cannot be sure who the architect of the lighthouse was. Ancient historians associated the name Sostratus with the lighthouse in their writings, and his name is said to be engraved on the building, leading modern scholars to believe that he was either the architect of the lighthouse or the main donor.[3]

Old descriptions of lighthouses.

Besides mentioning the possible architects of the lighthouse, ancient writers are the best sources for the modern understanding of the lighthouse's size, structure and purpose. Julius Caesar mentioned lighthouses in his military memoirs on the civil wars of the 1st century BC. According to Caesar's own account, during the Battle of Alexandria in 48 BC, Caesar's army caused Damage to buildings on the island of Pharos near the lighthouse, and according to Strabo, a Greek geographer from the 1st century B.C. BC, the damage was very serious. .

"Similarly, the end of the island was a rock washed by the sea, and upon it was a tower of white marble with many steps, bearing the same name as the island. This was Sóstrato de Nidos, a friend of the king .A sacrifice for the safety of the sailors, as the inscription says: Since the coast has no harbor and is low on both sides and has reefs and shoals, those of higher need those of Sea sailing thither, large and visible ships. A sign to properly orient your course towards the entrance to the port. And the western entrance is not easy to enter, albeit with less caution than the others. It also forms a second port, the so-called port of Eunostos at Dug, by the hand of man, for the port which permitted entrance on the side of said Farosta is the great port, and these two ports are at their innermost niches with connected to this port, separated only by a causeway called the Seven Towers. Bridge that extended from the mainland to the west of the island, leaving only two passes to the port of Eunostos over which bridges were built. However, the project did not just form a bridge to the island and an aqueduct, at least when Faros was inhabited. But in modern times it was destroyed by Saint Caesar in his war with the Alexanders for siding with the king.[4]

Although Caesar's troops did some damage to the island of Faros, and apparently also to the lighthouse itself, the Romans soon rebuilt Egypt and made it a second gateway to the Seven Wonders of the World. It remained an important city when control of Alexandria passed from Ptolemy to the Romans. Apparently the Romans quickly repaired the damage to the lighthouse, for when Josephus, the first century AD C. Jewish historian, wrote about it, did not mention the damage.

Ruins of the Roman Amphitheater of Alexandria

"Because it is difficult to enter Egypt by land and there are few ports on the coast... even in peacetime it is difficult for ships to approach Alexandria. The entrance is narrow and the flooded rocks make it impossible to drive in a straight line.” The left side is closed by artificial breakwaters, on the right side is the island of Pharos, not far from the coast, and on the island stands a huge lighthouse whose fire can be seen from a distance of 35 miles and warns incoming ships that anchor far offshore at night because it is difficult to enter the port.[5]

Josephus' article not only shows that the lighthouse was fully operational again around 100 years after the Battle of Caesar, but also shows that it was in fact a lighthouse using firewood as a light source. More ancient descriptions of lighthouses can be found on coins minted by Alexander during Roman times. The so-called "lighthouse coin", depicting a lighthouse, was minted during the reigns of six emperors, from Domitian to Marlux Aurelius and then again in the twenty-ninth year of Commodus.[6]

Based on ancient descriptions, modern scholars believe the lighthouse was between 400 and 660 feet tall and was divided into three tiers. The base is square, the center octagonal and the top tier is circular on which a statue of Zeus stands proud.[7]The Alexandria Lighthouse is truly a sight to behold, which is why the story of its destruction is almost as important as its life.

Destroyed the Alexandria lighthouse

Panoramic view of modern Alexandria: the island of Pharos and the fortress of Ketbe in the middle of the background

As noted above, the Alexandria Lighthouse suffered the first recorded man-made damage at the hands of Julius Caesar. After Josephus, very little is known about the lighthouse. The medieval Islamic historian Ibn Battuta visited Alexandria twice during his epic voyages through the Islamic world (1326 and 1349) and found the lighthouse badly damaged on the first voyage, almost completely destroyed on the second voyage. Batua never commented on the cause of the damage. Thanks to advances in science, modern scientists have been able to determine that most of the damage to the lighthouse in the post-Roman/Islamic period was due to natural causes.

The numerous devastating earthquakes that shook Egypt in the Middle Ages probably caused the most damage to the lighthouse. In 956 AD C., a particularly strong earthquake destroyed the top floor of the tower and was felt throughout Egypt and as far away as Syria.[8]In addition to recurring earthquakes, Mediterranean salt erosion appears to have played a role in the lighthouse's disappearance. Due to numerous earthquakes, the outside of the lighthouse has long been in poor condition, and repeated erosion from wind and sand will cause damage to the outside of the lighthouse.[9]Despite severe earthquake damage and salt spray erosion at the Alexandria Lighthouse, this marvel can still be rebuilt. The eventual sinking of the Alexandria Lighthouse was not due to a single event, but to cultural and demographic shifts in the region.

Alexandria was a city built by the Greeks and later succeeded by the Romans and the Byzantine Empire. For these peoples, Alexandria was an important place in their empire, and the lighthouse was the physical center of the city, both literally and metaphorically. When the Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt in 642 AD. C., saw Alexandria and the lighthouse very differently. While Muslims were impressed by some aspects of Greek civilization, they were not part of it, and monuments such as the Seven Wonders of the World had little impact on them. Egypt played an important role in the new caliphate, but the new city of Cairo was more central to medieval Egypt than Alexandria.

Still, the Muslims did not completely abandon Alexandria and the lighthouse. As mentioned above, Ibn Battuta knew of lighthouses, but by his time they had long ceased to function as real lighthouses. In the 9th century, about a century before a major earthquake destroyed the upper floor, the lighthouse was converted into a mosque.[10]It's unclear if Egyptian rulers attempted to rebuild the lighthouse mosque after a devastating 10th-century earthquake, but it is known that Sultan Qaitbay converted the remains of the lighthouse into a fortress in 1480.[11]


Although the Alexandria Lighthouse, like the other five of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, no longer exists, it still captures the imagination of countless people around the world. For around 1,000 years, the lighthouse has been a symbol of Alexandria's greatness and a beacon of safe passage through treacherous Alexandria. Unfortunately, this great monument was destroyed for several reasons. Earthquake and erosion were responsible for most of the damage to the lighthouse, but when the Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt, they did not view the monument with the same reverence as the Greeks who conquered Alexandria. The city itself was so important to the Islamic Caliphate that they decided to convert the remains of the lighthouse first into a mosque and then into a fortress.


  1. Peter A Clayton. The Lighthouse of Alexandria. existSeven Wonders of the Ancient WorldEdited by Peter Clayton and Martin J. Price. (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 14. 140
  2. Scheidel, Walter, "Creating a Metropolis: A Comparative Demographic Perspective."ancient Alexandria between Egypt and GreeceEditors: WV Harris and Giovanni Ruffini. (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 14, 23
  3. Clayton, S. 142-3
  4. Strabo. GeographyTranslated by Horace Leonard Jones. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), Book XVII, 1.6
  5. José. The works of Josephus: complete and unabridgedTranslated by William Whiston. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), Vol. 4, 6043
  6. Manager, Susan. "Architecture on the Roman Coins of Alexandria".American Journal of Archaeology75 (1971), S. 75. 182
  7. Claire, Tomás C.Alexandria Lighthouse: Lighthouse, Ancient Wonder of the World.(Portsmouth, NH: Black Channel Press, 2008), Seite 10. 56-60
  8. Clare, S. 94
  9. Clare, S. 123
  10. Clare, S. 94
  11. Clare, S. 138

administrative,Jared KrebsbachjEric Lambrecht


How the Alexandria lighthouse was destroyed? ›

Earthquakes, especially in 796, 950 - with a partial collapse six years later - 1303 and 1323, badly damaged the Lighthouse of Alexandria over the centuries, but there are records of regular repairs and extensions.

How was the Lighthouse of Alexandria destroyed? ›

In 796 and 951, during two earthquakes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was partially damaged but was still standing, but following three more earthquakes in 1303 and 1323, the Lighthouse finally collapsed. The most destructive earthquake is known to be the one in 1303 originating from the Greek Island of Crete.

How was the Lighthouse of Alexandria destroyed in the 14th century? ›

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was damaged by several earthquakes over the centuries, and it was eventually destroyed completely by a series of earthquakes in the 14th century. Today, only a few ruins remain of the once-great tower.

What evidence was found in the Lighthouse of Alexandria? ›

Among the findings were great blocks of granite weighing a whopping 40-60 tonnes each, 30 sphinx statues, and 5 obelisk columns with carvings that date to Ramses II's reign from 1279-1213 BC. Columns at the underwater museum near the former lighthouse, Alexandria, Egypt.

Was the Lighthouse of Alexandria the last of the six vanished wonders? ›

The lighthouse has a white marble cover, stood 384 feet high, and was built during the 3rd century. Of the six vanished Wonders, it was the last to disappear.

Why did Alexandria get destroyed? ›

Ammianus Marcellinus thought that it happened when the city was sacked under Caesar, and Caesar himself reported the burning of Alexandria as an accidental consequence of his war against his great rival Pompey, in 48–47 BCE.

How long did the Lighthouse of Alexandria survive? ›

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was basically a 40-story building that managed to survive for 1500 years. Given the lifespan of most structures throughout history, the fact that it survived that long while still serving its original purpose for most of that time is remarkable.

How far could the Lighthouse of Alexandria be seen? ›

The lighthouse served its purpose perfectly: During the day, sailors could use it to navigate; at night, they could safely spot the harbor. Standing more than 350 feet tall, the lighthouse could be seen from 34 miles away—a whole day's sailing—according to the Jewish historian Josephus.

What were the underwater discoveries in Alexandria? ›

Underwater Palaces

He discovered columns, statues, sphinxes and ceramics associated with the Ptolemies' royal quarter—possibly even the palace of Cleopatra herself.

How far away could the light from the Lighthouse of Alexandria be seen? ›

Other chroniclers maintain that the signal from the lighthouse was visible on the other side of the Mediterranean. But we know today that this would be physically impossible because of the curvature of the earth. Nevertheless, it could be seen 80 kilometers away.

How many of the seven wonders still exist? ›

Of the original Seven Wonders of the World, only one—the Great Pyramids of Giza—still exists. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Temple of Artemis, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus have all faded to dust and memory.

Can you still visit the Lighthouse of Alexandria? ›

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was once one of the 7 Wonders of the World. While it is no longer standing, one can dive to see it under the sea. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Was there a statue at the top of the Lighthouse of Alexandria? ›

Many ancient descriptions of the tower describe a statue at the tower's apex, and while many historians believe it was originally a statue of Zeus, it could have been changed to a depiction of a number of different gods or rulers across the centuries.

Is there anything left of the Lighthouse of Alexandria? ›

Today it is possible to see the ruins of the ancient lighthouse that have tumbled into the harbor by diving. One can discover not only the giant granite blocks believed to be the remnants of the Lighthouse of Alexandria but much more.

Can we still see the Lighthouse of Alexandria? ›

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was destroyed in a series of earthquakes between 956 and 1323 AD. The last of the stones and mortar that made up the lighthouse was used to build a citadel. Other Lighthouse of Alexandria can be seen on the harbour floor. Much of Ancient Alexandria now rests on the floor of the harbour.

Was the Lighthouse of Alexandria a weapon? ›

Another writer describes the lighthouse as a super weapon, asserting that the prismatic lenses were used to set enemy ships on fire, yet another of the tall tales surrounding the lighthouse. The lighthouse on Pharos was ultimately destroyed by heavy earthquakes.

Why was the Lighthouse of Alexandria considered a wonder? ›

The Lighthouse of Alexandria is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World because of both the size and speed at which it was built. The tower stood at over 330 feet tall, which at the time of construction was the second tallest manmade structure in existence, apart from the pyramids of Giza.


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