The Pharos (Lighthouse) of Alexandria

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The Pharos (Lighthouse) Lighthouse of Alexandria

It was this immense lighthouse, considered one of the Wonders of the World, that, in the words of ЕМ. Forster, ‘.”beaconed to the imagination, not only to ships at sea and long after its light was extinguished memories of it glowed in the minds of men’. Probably visualised by Alexander the Great, it was built to the order of Ptolemy II 279 BC by Sostratus, an Asiatic Greek. It stood c 120m high in a colonnaded court and consisted of four tiers. A square-sectioned, many— windowed base, c 60m high, contained c 300 rooms housing the attendants, a double spiral ascent and a hydraulic machine for raising the fuel to the roof. This was topped by a great cornice, at each Corner of which was a huge statue of a tn’ton, An inscription running just under the cornice read: ‘Sostratus of Knidus, son of Dexiphanes, to the Saviour Gods for mariners’. The gods referred to are Castor and Pollux but also implied is the deified Ptolemy, The next tier (30m) was octagonal, containing only the spiral ascent topped by another cornice A cylindrical section supported the lantern which held the fire which was probably magnified by a reflecting device; the light could be seen for 56km.

The Pharos (Lighthouse) Lighthouse of Alexandria
The Pharos (Lighthouse) Lighthouse of Alexandria

A 7 meter tall statue of Poseidon crowned the whole edifice. It was still largely intact at the Muslim conquest in 641, but the lantern fell in c 700 and the building was restored by Ibn Tulun in 900. The great earthquake of 1100 dislodged the octagonal tier after which the base was buttressed and a mosque was built on top. During the next serious earthquake of 1307 the ancient structure crumbled and fell. For nearly two centuries the stones lay where they had fallen but in 1479, with the Ottomans on the N coast of the Mediterranean, Sultan Qayt-bay visited Alexandria and decided to build a fort on the peninsula, one of a series he built along the coast. The enclosure walls do not follow those of the Pharos but are realigned to the qiblah as there is a mosque in the keep.

A causeway leads into the irregular five—sided enclosure (c 110m by 100m) with three half-round towers on the SW and SE walls. The original entrance at the S corner is also flanked by two half-round towers, with interior rooms. Within the fabric of the walls to the NW of the gateway are antique granite and marble columns. Little of interest

the citadel of Qayt-bay
the citadel of Qayt-bay

lies inside the courtyard (now occupied by the Egyptian Navy) except for the castle situated at the N corner. Half-round towers straddle each corner with overhanging machicoulis and half—round crenellations. The keep houses a Naval Museum (09.00—15.00, Friday closed 1 1.30—1330; small fee) but the central feature is the mosque of typical metropolitan cruciform construction, not in the usual Delta style. At the entrance are five great monolithic pillars of red Aswan granite. This covered madrasah with remains of good stucco decoration has the floor of the sahn and raised iwans lined with marble. On the second storey is a series of vaulted rooms.

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