An illustration of the Lighthouse of Alexandria shows its intricacies.

This Wonder of the Ancient World shone brightly for more than a thousand years

The Lighthouse of Alexandria towered over the port city founded by Alexander the Great. Guiding sailors for centuries, it stood from the third century B.C. until the Middle Ages.

Alexandria's colossal wonder

The Lighthouse of Alexandria stood taller than 350 feet and was adorned with colossal pink granite statues, representing the Ptolemaic pharaohs and their queens. Enormous blocks of white limestone were used to build the lighthouse, which would have shined intensely under the Egyptian sun. The corners of the upper floors were decorated with 6 figures of Tritons forged in metal. Crowning the building was a bronze statue, measuring 22 feet tall and representing the god Poseidon or Zeus.
Jean-Claude Golvin/Musée Départemental Arles Antique

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World served a variety of purposes: Some were decorative, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Others, like the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, were spiritual. While both beautiful and functional, the Lighthouse of Alexandria also served a practical purpose: Its shining light safely guided ships into the Egyptian harbor for centuries, placing the port city at the center of Mediterranean trade in the ancient world.

Alexander the Great founded his eponymous city in 331 B.C. when he was traveling through northern Egypt, escorted by a handful of men. Barely three years had passed since the start of the Macedonian king’s campaign against the Persians, and he had already seized control of the coastal area of the eastern Mediterranean. In the Nile Delta, he decided to found a port that would ensure his control of the seas while also replacing the Phoenician city of Tyre—which he had just razed—as a trade hub. He soon found the perfect spot for the new city: a stretch of land connected to the Nile via the westernmost branch of the delta and protected by Lake Maryut on its southern side.

(Egypt’s Great Pyramids are one of the most iconic wonders of the ancient world.)

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