Alexandria was a major city of trade during the 2nd to 4th centuries B. C. Named after the famed military leader, Alexander the Great, it was situated on the western end of the Nile delta, next to the Mediterranean Sea. Following Alexander the Great’s death, Ptolemy, who took control of Egypt, decided to build a lighthouse like no other. The end result earns its place among the 7 Wonders of the World. The Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria earns its place among the Seven Wonders of the World because of the engineering and building expertise required to make the tallest lighthouse, ever, in the world.
The debate still rages on the actual height of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. One of the lowest estimates is 384 feet. Even this low figure puts it at the second tallest of all time. Two of the most credible accounts comes from Moorish travelers Idrisi and Yusuf Ibn al-Shaikh that states the lighthouse is 300 cubits high. This puts the range anywhere from 450 ft to 600 ft. This is due to the inconsistency in the actual measure of a cubit, which can range from 17” to 24”.
Because of its geographical location and the time of the observation, it is logical to assume they were using the Egyptian Royal cubit, which has been preserved on ancient rulers measured in cubits. This cubit is approximately 20. 6 inches long, so that would make it 515 feet high, over 55 stories high. The only other lighthouse jockeying for the top spot is the Jeddah Light, in Saudi Arabia, at 438 feet. The fact that over two millennia ago these engineers and builders were able to beat modern technology shows the Lighthouse at Alexandria deserves to be included in the Seven Wonders.
Not only is it able to be the tallest lighthouse, but also tallest of the 7 wonders of the world. The next tallest is the Pyramids of Giza. These came in at 481 feet at their prime. But that achievement of height was not nearly as impressive, though still impressive. The Pyramids had a base 755 feet per side and an area of 570,025 square feet. The Lighthouse at Alexandria’s base was only 100 feet per side and an area of 10,000, under 2% of the size of the Pyramids. This was due to the advanced engineering used to design the Lighthouse at Alexandria. This task was gifted to Sostratus, the head Architect on the project.
His design split the lighthouse into three sections. The lower most was a square base that is always put at 240 feet high. A 660 foot ramp connected it to the main land. The ramp connected part way up this first section. On top of the first tower there was an octagonal tower. And atop that was the final circular tower, which led to the fire and the bronze mirror used to direct the light. On top of it all was a statue of Poseidon, Greek God of the sea. There were doubts about whether this awesome design could really be built. Little is known about the actual building of the lighthouse.
It is known that it was built on the island of Pharos. This added on to the already daunting task because they had to transport the materials by ship. The lighthouse was made of heavy white marble blocks. Sostratus was proud and desired to have his name carved into the foundation. Ptolemy II refused because he wanted only his own name to be on the building. A clever man, Sostratus supposedly had the inscription, “Sostratus Son of Dexiphanes of Knidos on Behalf of All Mariners to the Savior Gods,” chiseled into the foundation, then had it covered with plaster.
Ptolemy’s name was carved into this plaster. Years after they were both dead the plaster chipped away, revealing Sostratus’ dedication. The Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria earned its place on the list of the seven ancient wonders. Not only was it the tallest light house ever, it was also the tallest of the seven wonders. The engineering behind it is magnificent. Building it was a major challenge, back in 283 B. C. The Egyptians, just following the massive Macedonian empire, had a massive task. They delivered one of the best Wonders the World.