The Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World built on the island of Pharos. It was constructed early in the Ptolemaic period, in the 3rd century BC (between 285 and 247 BC). The building was designed by Sostratus and initiated by Satrap Ptolemy I of Egypt, Egypt's first Hellenistic ruler. The building was completed during the reign of his son, Ptolemy II Philadelphos.
The lighthouse was built originally as a daytime landmark only, later evolving into a functional lighthouse towards the Roman period. It was built of large light-colored stone with molten lead poured between to lock in the blocks from the pounding of the sea. The lighthouse was built in three distinct structures, the first a square-like rectagular box as a base, the second a 8 sided tower and on top of the tower was a cylinder that extended up to an open cupola where the fire that provided the light burned. It has been said that the lighthouse housed a spiral staircase or ramp that would lead near the top. A series of elevators or dumbwaiters brought the fuel to the top chamber. The ramp would have allowed mules to pull carts of wood or fuel to light the flame at night. At the top of the structure stood a statue of Poseidon. The exact total height of the structure is not known but it is estimated at between 115 and 135 m (380 and 440 ft). This would have made the Lighthouse the tallest structure in the ancient world (besides the Great Pyramid at Giza) for centuries to come.
There is specualtion that the Lighthouse housed a large curved mirror, probably made of polished metal, that was able to project out into the Mediterranean for 30 miles. There is some doubt this was possible as the Earth's horizon may have prevented this from happening. It was also been said that the mirror collected the Sun's rays to be so powerful that it could burn ships at sea. Most likely this was implausible. Nonetheless the Lighthouse of Alexandria served a functional role as a landmark for mariners and a symbol of power and technological advancement in the ancient world.
The Lighthouse stood for nearly 1,500 years until it was badly damaged in a series of natural disasters. In 956 AD and yet again in 1303 and 1323. The lighhouse succumbed to earthquakes that eventually sent it crumbling on to itself and also on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea. Other possiblities to its destruction indicate a tidal wave that may have toppled the lighthouse and also helped to destroy the palaces and port structures close to the shore. After the destruction the Sultan of Egypt, Qaitbay, built a medieval fort on the former location of the lighthouse using some of the fallen stone. There are remnants of the Pharos that were incorporated into the walls of Fort Qaitbay. The fort still stands today.
Library of Alexandria
The Royal Library of Alexandria was once the largest library in the world. It is generally thought to have been founded at the
beginning of the 3rd century BC, during the reign of Ptolemy II after his father had built
what would become the first part of the library complex: the temple of the Muses - the "Musaion".
The Royal Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt was once the largest library in the world. It is generally assumed to have been founded at
the beginning of the 3rd century BC, during the reign of Ptolemy II of Egypt, after Ptolemy's father had raised what would become the first part
of the library complex, the temple of the Muses - the Musaeum (which is the source of the word "museum").
At its peak, the Royal Library is believed to have held about half of a million books and was initially organized by Demetrius Phalereus. It has
been reasonably established that the library was destroyed by fire, but to this day the details of the destruction (or destructions) remain a
lively source of controversy. The loss of the library is widely considered a great loss to humanity. It contained the compiled history of
generations, not just of Egypt. The five hundred thousand or so volumes were not codices but scrolls, made of papyrus and written by hand.
Scientists and learned men of the time would visit the library from all over to study, and add to the great collection. It is said that Archimedes
once visited Alexandria, studying for hours in the library and museum. Often, scientists would re-write old scrolls that were badly written or
growing brittle with age. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2003 near the site of the old library .
One story holds that the Library was seeded with Aristotle's own private collection, through one of his students, Demetrius Phalereus.
Another story concerns how its collection grew so large: By decree of Ptolemy III of Egypt, all visitors to the city were required to
surrender all books and scrolls in their possession; these writings were then swiftly copied by official scribes. The originals were put
into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners. While encroaching on the rights of the traveler or merchant, the
process also helped to create a reservoir of books in the relatively new city.
The Library's contents were likely distributed over several buildings, with the main library either located directly attached to or close
to the oldest building, the Museum, and a daughter library in the younger Serapeum, also a temple dedicated to the god Serapis.
In 2004 a Polish-Egyptian team claimed to have discovered a part of the library while excavating in the Bruchion region. The archaeologists
claimed to have found thirteen "lecture halls", each with a central podium. Zahi Hawass, president of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities
said that all together, the rooms uncovered so far could have seated 5000 students.
Did you know that at the Library of Alexandria:
Aristarchus was the first person to state that the earth revolves around the sun, a full 1800 years before Copernicus;
Eratosthenes proved that the earth was spherical and calculated its circumference with amazing accuracy, 1700 years before Columbus sailed on his epic voyage
Hipparchus established the first atlas of the stars and calculated the length of the solar year accurately to within 6.5 minutes
Callimachus the poet described the texts in the library organized by subject and author, becoming the father of library science,
Euclid wrote his elements of geometry, the basic text studied in schools all over the world even now
Herophylus identified the brain as the controlling organ of the body and launched a new era of medicine
Manetho chronicled the pharaohs and organized our history into the dynasties we use to this day
Zenodotus and the grammarians established the basics of literary scholarship with their meticulous definition of the Homerian text for the Iliad and the Odyssey
Cleopatra's Reign in Alexandria
The Last Pharaoh
Cleopatra VII Philopator (January 69 BC – August 12, 30 BC) was the last Pharaoh of Egypt's Ptolemaic dynasty. She originally shared power with her father Ptolemy XII Auletes and later with her brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, whom she also married, but eventually gained sole rule. As pharaoh, she consummated a liaison with Gaius Julius Caesar that solidified her grip on the throne. She later elevated her son with Caesar, Caesarion, to co-ruler in name.
Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII Phil-opator), a queen of Egypt of the Ptolemaic dynasty. She was a handsome, able, and ambitious woman noted for her charm. Her kingdom was one of the old subdivisions of the empire of Alexander the Great. Its capital was Alexandria. At first Cleopatra shared the throne with her younger brother, Ptolemy XII, whom she married, according to the prevailing custom in Egypt. After Ptolemy drove Cleopatra from the throne (49 B.C.), she used her charms to get the aid of Julius Caesar, who was in Egypt. Caesar helped her defeat Ptolemy, who was killed, and restored her to the Egyptian throne as joint ruler with her youngest brother, Ptolemy XIII.
Cleopatra bore Caesar a son called Caesarion (Little Caesar). In 46 B.C., a year after Caesar's return to Rome, Cleopatra joined him there. She returned to Egypt after Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C. and soon poisoned her brother in order to gain complete control of the throne.
In 42 B.C. Mark Antony, who shared Roman rule with Octavian (later called Augustus), ordered Cleopatra to appear before him to determine her allegiance. Antony fell in love with her and remained with her in Egypt for a time. She bore him several children.
When Antony returned to Rome, he married Octavian's sister. But he abandoned her after some years and rejoined Cleopatra in Egypt, where he lived a luxurious and pleasure-loving life. Octavian, angry at this desertion of his sister and ambitious to rule alone, declared war on Egypt and defeated Antony in the naval battle of Actium in 31 B.C. The next year Octavian invaded Egypt. Believing that Cleopatra was dead, Antony killed himself.
Cleopatra next tried to win favor with Octavian as she had with Caesar and Antony. She failed, however, and came to realize that Octavian planned to exhibit her in his military triumph at Rome. To escape this humiliation, she killed herself. According to legend, she had an asp bite her. Her son Caesarion was killed by Octavian the same year. Cleopatra's death, which came after a reign of 21 years, ended the dynasty of the Ptolemies in Egypt.
The port of Alexandria Egypt taken looking east. Library of Alexandria in foreground (left) Royal Palaces (far right)
The city of Alexandria Egypt taken from the west looking east.
The port of Alexandria Egypt taken from the north looking south.