Alexandria’s lighthouse, the Pharos, was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Transcending its practical role as a navigational aid and early-warning system, it became synonymous with the city itself: a combination of aesthetic beauty and technological audacity, exceeding 125m (perhaps even 150m) in height, including the statue of Zeus at its summit.
Possibly conceived by Alexander himself, the Pharos took twelve years to build under the direction of an Asiatic Greek, Sostratus, and was completed in 283 BC. Its square base contained three hundred rooms which, according to legend, once housed the seventy rabbis who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, and perhaps also machinery for hauling fuel up to the lantern in the cylindrical third storey, whose light is thought to have been visible 56km away. Some chroniclers also mention a “mirror” that enabled the lighthouse keepers to observe ships far out at sea.
Around 700 AD the lantern collapsed, or was demolished by a treasure-hunting caliph; the base survived unscathed and Ibn Tulun restored the second level, until an earthquake in 1303 reduced the whole structure to rubble, which is now strewn over the seabed beyond Fort Qaitbey.
Divers have located over 2500 stone objects underwater at depths of 6–8m, including the head of a colossus of Ptolemy as pharaoh, and the base of an obelisk inscribed to Seti I, both of which have been brought to the surface. In addition, there are several monoliths, weighing 50–70 ton apiece and embedded in the rock by the impact of their fall, which can only have belonged to the lighthouse.
Five hundred metres offshore wrecks of Greek and Roman trading vessels laden with amphorae of wine and fish sauce have been found, along with over fifty anchors of all eras – more pieces in the mosaic picture of ancient Alexandria that’s emerging from surveys of the Eastern Harbour.
Divers may explore these and other sites for themselves.