One of the Ancient Wonders of the World is Brought Low by an Earthquake

August 8, 1303

In the eastern Mediterranean basin, a violent earthquake – and the major tsunami it triggered – led to widespread destruction and death throughout the region. The best-known casualty of these natural disasters was the longstanding lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt, that had achieved renown as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Starting as far back as the 8th century, the Lighthouse of Alexandria had withstood at least 20 earthquakes of significant strength. While the earthquake and resultant tsunami of 1303 did not destroy one of the most famous lighthouses ever built, they still managed to wreak havoc of unprecedented and irreparable severity on the structure. The days of the lighthouse were numbered from that point on. An earthquake in 1323 only worsened the lighthouse’s precarious condition, and Egyptian records indicate that structure finally collapsed altogether in 1375.

The construction of the lighthouse began in the 3rd century BCE during the rule of the pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter. He commissioned building it on the small island of Pharos to help guide ships sailing into the port of Alexandria. The construction project was still a work in progress when Ptolemy I Soter died, and his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus completed it.

The height of the lighthouse, based on various sources throughout the centuries, was anywhere from 394 to 449 feet (120 to 137 meters) and it could be clearly seen by sailors out at sea. A large fire was stoked and maintained at the summit of the structure, providing the bright light.

Among those who early on appreciated both the grandeur and lifesaving role of the lighthouse was the renowned Greek poet Posidippus. At around the same time that the lighthouse first went into service, he wrote about “how this tower cutting through the breadth and depth of heaven beacons to the farthest distances by day, and all night long the sailors borne on the waves will see the great flame blazing from its top.”

Julius Caesar would become similarly captivated by the lighthouse about two centuries later.  He noted how it was “of great height, a work of wonderful construction,” and he even had a model of the lighthouse (complete with something resembling a flame at the top) displayed as part of one of his triumphant parades in Rome.

Along with earning a place as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria continues to be memorialized in other ways. These include the use of the lighthouse as a civic symbol in Alexandria, where a stylized image of the structure appears on the city’s flag and seal.

For more information on the Lighthouse of Alexandria, please check out https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Pharos-Lighthouse-at-Alexandria and http://www.greece.org/alexandria/pharos/.

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