Tuesday 16 October 2012

A Beacon of light

Pharos - the famous ancient lighthouse
We've probably all seen those seascape panoramas featuring a red-capped, whitewashed 19th-Century lighthouse gazing out towards the storm. For the last three hundred years lighthouses have been a big part of the seafaring and its hard to imagine the salty air without a lighthouse somewhere nearby. Did the ancients have that same experience? Well, I guess most of us have probably heard of the great 'Pharos' lighthouse that protected the entrance to the harbour at Alexandria. Built by Ptolemy in the 3rd-century BC, 400-feet high - that's around 36 storeys - at a cost of 800 talents (19.2-million sesterces for a Roman - $480-million for us) it was the granddaddy of ancient lighthouses, but it was far from the only one. In fact, during the Roman era, lighthouses may have been just as ubiquitous as they are today. Pliny notes that similar lighthouses to Pharos were built at Ravenna in northern Italy and Ostia - Rome's nearest harbour, but there were several more...with one remaining in operation after 1900-years - there's a good chance it is now fully depreciated. This survivor is the Tower of Hercules near A Coruna in northwestern Spain. Modelled after the tower of Pharos it is just under half the height of the Alexandrian monster at 180ft and has been in constant use protecting Atlantic Ocean shipping since the 2nd-Century AD. 

The Tower of Hercules, the Roman survivor still at work

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