oa Civil Engineering = Siviele Ingenieurswese - The story of the lighthouse at Agulhas : history and heritage

Volume 24, Issue 5
  • ISSN : 1021-2000



Ancient beginnings - the world's first lighthouse of any consequence was situated in Africa, but at the opposite end of the continent to the one we are celebrating. It was built on an island called Pharos at the entrance to the port of Alexandria in Egypt in 279 BC for King Ptolemy II. By any standards it was a giant - 140 metres tall on a base 33 metres square. The fire at the top could be seen over 40 km away. Quite rightly it became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. By comparison the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the coast of South Carolina, the tallest in the United States, is 60 metres high; the Skerryvore, pride of the British Isles, 48 metres; and the South African champion, Slangkop, a mere 33 metres. The designer and builder, Sostratus, must have known his trade. How he lifted the huge limestone blocks into position is a matter for speculation; he then 'cemented' them together with molten lead. Two thousand years later the same material was used in building the second Eddystone Lighthouse. The method was obviously successful, because the structure stood for 1 500 years - the tallest ever built until overtaken by the American skyscrapers in the 1930s.

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