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Context of the lighthouse of Alexandria


The lighthouse of Alexandria is the last of the seven wonders of the world. Located as its name suggests in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, it was built from 297 BC and the work would have lasted only 15 years, a hypothesis now commonly accepted in the scientific community. The governor of Egypt was then Ptolemy I, who never saw the lighthouse finished, since he died during the works. These were finished under the reign of his son Ptolemy II in 283 BC.


A little history...

It must be known that the Empire of Alexander the Great, Macedonian, having conquered in an unprecedented time an empire which connected the West and the East, disappeared in 323. His empire was shared with his generals. Ptolemy was appointed satrap of Egypt (a satrap was a governor answering his acts to the king), he took his independence in 303 and ruled his kingdom until 283, the year of his death. His son Ptolemy II took over and was the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt until 30 BC, the year of the Roman conquest.

In the 3rd century BC Alexandria was an essential Egyptian port, the most important in the country, it was the port of entry of the country. Heir to the prestigious past of the Pharaonic era she was a center of knowledge, mainly in the fields of literature, science, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. Many discoveries take place during this period of intense cultural activity favored by a certain opulence, the city benefiting from sufficient resources to live richly, as well as the kingdom.

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.


Lighthouses before the 3rd century

As soon as the maritime trade developed, there was a need to quickly identify the port of destination, the interest of the lighthouses was evident from the outset. The practice of lighting fires on promontories was common. Piraeus, the port of Athens, is an ancient example of it, since it has found traces of several lighthouses dating to the oldest of the fifth century BC, two hundred years before the lighthouse of Alexandria. These traces are found near the tomb of Themistocles and at the entrance to the cove of Mounychia. There are others on the Bosphorus Strait. One of the oldest lighthouses is that of Phanari, it dates from the 6th century BC. Of modest size (2m54), it consists of a cylindrical tower of 3m50 in diameter at the top of which were placed slabs of sandstone on which the fire was maintained.

At that time the boats were spotted with the smoke of fire in the daytime and the brilliance of the flames at night, a technique that will not be improved for centuries.


The coast of Alexandria

Alexandria was a city of great importance in the 3rd century BC, a place of science as well as power; it had to be easily identifiable for sailors approaching the coast. But they knew that was was dangerous, it is filled with shallows and reefs flushing the water, or even remaining slightly submerged. Many boats had sunk before reaching shelter behind the island of Phare and its two natural handles. The presence of a lighthouse was obvious, but there was no high place along this desperately flat coast. This is why Ptolemy I took the decision to make an emblematic monument at the entrance to the port, a monument that would serve as both a symbol of power in the city and a landmark.



See also:

Lighthouse of Alexandria

The 7 wonders of the world




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