Simanaitis Says

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ALEXANDER THE GREAT founded a city on the southeast Mediterranean coast in 331 B.C. In time, Alexandria was the largest city in the world, with a major reclamation project being the Heptastadion (“Seven Stadia,” the stadian being a Greek unit of length of some 590 ft) connecting the city to Pharos, an island in its harbor. Near this island was erected the Lighthouse of Alexandria, aka the Pharos of Alexandria, sometime during the reign of  Ptolemy II (280–247 B.C.). The Pharos became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (Extra points: Name the other six.)

Image by Philg88, based on Shepherd’s Historical Atlas, 1911. This and following images from Wikipedia.

Some 2200 years later, the Pharos long gone, a British magician named Jasper Maskelyne claimed to have pulled off quite a feat: He and his Magic Gang made the Alexandria Harbour disappear—and reappear in masquerade along the coast a few miles away. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits on the long-term disappearance of the Pharos of Alexandria and the possible war-time relocation of Alexandria Harbour. 

The Pharos of Alexandria. As described in Wikipedia, the structure “has been estimated to have been at least 100 meters (330 ft.) in overall height. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, for many centuries it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world.” (Only half-credit for initiative if you peek.) 

The Pharos (Lighthouse) of Alexandria. Drawing by archeologist Hermann Thiersch, 1909. Image from Wikipedia.

Pharos Etymology. Wikipedia says, “The etymology of ‘Pharos’ is uncertain. The word became generalized in modern Greek (φάρος fáros), and was loaned into Italian (faro) and French (phare),” all given the Google Translate meaning of “lighthouse.” Partridge’s Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English offers the Greek pharos as “a mantle,” perhaps suggesting the shape of the island. Partridge also gives a connection with “phosphorus,” from the Greek phōsphoros, “light-bringer.”

Pharos Construction. Wikipedia says, “The light was produced by a furnace at the top, and the tower was said to have been built mostly with solid blocks of limestone and granite.…The blocks of sandstone and limestone used in the construction of the lighthouse have been scientifically analysed in order to discover where they originated, with mineralogical and chemical analysis pointing to the Wadi Hammamat quarries, which are located in the desert to the east of Alexandria.”

Pharos Longevity and Demise. Earthquakes were problematic to the Pharos. They cracked its structure in 796 and 951, followed by a collapse in 956, than again in 1303 and 1323. Wikipedia notes, “The stubby remnant disappeared in 1480, when the then-Sultan of EgyptQaitbay, built a medieval fort on the larger platform of the lighthouse site using some of the fallen stone.” 

The lighthouse as depicted in the Book of Wonders, a late 14th-century Arabic text.

A Hidden Treasure. Wikipedia offers this charming folklore: “The 10th-century writer al-Mas’udi reports a legendary tale on the lighthouse’s destruction, according to which at the time of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (r. 705–715) the Byzantines sent a eunuch agent, who adopted Islam, gained the Caliph‘s confidence and secured permission to search for hidden treasure at the base of the lighthouse. The search was cunningly made in such a manner that the foundations were undermined, and the Pharos collapsed. The agent managed to escape in a ship waiting for him.”

Nothing against eunuchs, but I’m tempted to subscribe to the earthquake thesis. 

Tomorrow in Part 2, the Pharos is rediscovered. And even before that, Alexandria Harbour is hidden. Both significant feats, maybe. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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