Arts & Culture

A Monument Lost to Time: The Pharos of Alexandria

A Monument Lost to Time: The Pharos of Alexandria

The lighthouse of Alexandria Photo
Artist’s impression of the Pharos of Alexandria | c. Andrei Pervukhin

Guarding the coast, bathed in sun-scarring and salt, stood one of Egypt’s most daunting structures: the Pharos of Alexandria, the third tallest human-made structure of its time and a blueprint for what would later be considered the modern lighthouse. For centuries, this lighthouse was the hallmark of ingenuity, rising just short of the Great Pyramid and hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Stationed on the Eastern Cape of Pharos, a humble isle off the coast of Egypt linked to the mainland by means of a dike, the lighthouse became a fixture of the Alexandrian coastline. It overlooked some of the Mediterranean’s most turbulent waters and flat beaches, later borrowing its title “Pharos” from the namesake isle itself. This marrying of name and function made the title synonymous with the word lighthouse in several languages to this day, including French, Italian and Spanish.

lighthouse of Alexandria | History, Location, & Facts ...
Lighthouse of Alexandria | c. Britannica
-Map of Pharos Island and the Eastern Harbor. (Forster, 1961).
Map of Pharos Island and the Eastern Harbor. (Forster, 1961)

Blueprints of A Monument

Although the lighthouse was originally commissioned by Ptolemy I Soter – general of Alexander the Great of Macedon and an eventual Pharaoh of Egypt – the building process gained momentum under Ptolemy II Philadelphus around 290 BCE. Greek architect Sastrotus of Cnidus was appointed to graph and construct the colossal structure; his vision was an ambitious one – one he undoubtedly achieved.

The lighthouse rose from a square base, to a middle octagonal section, up to a circular top, projecting light and clear visual up to 56.3 kilometers seaward. Its hailing grace was a combination of mirror-work and several light sources, including sunlight by day and massive fire by night. Those who reported witnessing the Pharos in full glory reported “that words were inadequate to describe its beauty.”

According to the notes of an Arab traveller, archaeologists were able to estimate the dimensions of the Pharos with relative confidence. It’s base was calculated to be 55.9 meters high, with the intermediate octagonal section at 27.4 meters high, boasting a side length of 18.3 meters. The final floor – a circular structure held up by eight columns – was believed to be 7.3 meters high.

An inaccessible tower, which crowned the lighthouse, was “surmounted by a cupola and a bronze statue” of the sea deity Poseidon.

The Pharos’ total height was a monumental 117 meters (accounting for the foundational underground), containing over 300 rooms.

-Different stages of destruction of Alexandria Lighthouse (Thiersch, 1909).
Different stages of destruction of Alexandria Lighthouse (Thiersch, 1909).
Citadel of Qaitbay | Egypt tours, Egypt travel, Places in ...
Citadel of Qaitbay | c. Travel To Egypt

Losing A Light Larger Than Life

Alas, unlike the Great Pyramid, the Pharos did not stand the test of time. It was brutally damaged in an earthquake in 956 CE, and later in the earthquakes of 1303 CE and 1323 CE. By 1408, the Pharos had crippled and collapsed into the coastline; from its ruins and still-holding foundations, the Egyptian fort of Qaitbay was founded on the site, using the stone leftover from the Pharos.

With a legacy of seventeen centuries as a saving grace for all seafarers who saw it, the Pharos of Alexandria was a staple of brilliance and a prototype for all such buildings – to this day, and for centuries to come.

Humans of Upper Egypt: Breaking Stereotypes on Egypt’s Misrepresented Communities
Egyptian Graphic Designer’s Work Displayed at COP26 Exhibition

Subscribe to our newsletter

Arts & Culture

With a heart for radio and an appetite for culture, Mona is a writer and illustrator based in Cairo. At the Erasmus University Rotterdam, she obtained a BSc and MA in Media, Culture, and Society, while actively writing for the faculty magazine. After graduating, Mona was an academic advisor at the American University in Cairo, as well as Managing Director of a small, campus-based advertising firm. Gears shifting, her knack for cultural research took over - enter: Egyptian Streets. Mona’s focus is tapered to issues of identity politics, culture, and social architecture.

More in Arts & Culture

Decolonizing the Ear: Halem El-Dabh Captured the Homegrown Sounds of Egypt

Mirna Abdulaal26 May 2022

The Villa of the Birds: Alexandria’s Hidden Treasure

Farah Rafik25 May 2022

A World of Vocal Artistry: Egypt’s Famous Opera Singers

Farah Rafik24 May 2022

Alexandria’s Al-Montaza: An Escape into Egypt’s Royal Past

Mona Abdou24 May 2022

Immobilia Building: The Legend Behind Egypt’s First Skyscraper

Shereif Barakat23 May 2022

How Egypt Can Become a Hub for Spiritual and Religious Tourism

Mirna Abdulaal21 May 2022

Badia Masabani: The Force Behind Modern Belly Dance in Egypt

Farah Rafik21 May 2022

Egypt Bids Farewell to Veteran Actor Samir Sabry, Aged 85

Egyptian Streets20 May 2022