A Lesson on the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria 1


Built by the Greek architect Sostratus in the third century BCE at the behest of Ptolemy I, the Great Lighthouse (also known as the Pharos, after the small island on which it was located) of Alexandria is one of the most enduring symbols of the ancient world. For centuries it was the tallest manmade structure on Earth, and was included as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the first thing sailors approaching Alexandria Harbor would see, and undoubtedly was an awe-inspiring (and comforting) sight. Recognizing its strategic importance, it was the first structure Julius Caesar seized control of during his Egyptian expeditions. Never ones to pass up a good idea, the Romans imitated the design of the Pharos with the Tower of Hercules, built in around the second century CE in Galicia, Spain. Destroyed in a series of earthquakes in the Medieval Period, the Lighthouse remains an enduring symbol of the city of Alexandria to this day.
I love talking about the Lighthouse because it can serve as a jumping-off point for so many topics: Egypt, Alexander the Great, sailing, ancient technology, engineering, architecture, historical linguistics (the word for “lighthouse” in a huge number of European languages derives from “pharos”), ancient trade, cultural syncretism, and more.
Here I have linked a presentation which I give to my students about the Lighthouse. There are two options: one is in Latin (appropriate for first- or second-year high school students, or those who have made it to the Alexandria section of the CLC), the other English. The presentation briefly describes Alexandria’s history and the lighthouse’s physical description. I also include a video from the recent video game Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which takes place in Alexandria during Caesar’s time and in which the player can visit and climb the Lighthouse. Finally, as I often use this presentation to introduce architecture projects, I include a bibliography and image list to demonstrate appropriate sourcing.
Feel free to copy and adjust to your needs as much as you want!


Leave a comment

One thought on “A Lesson on the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria