In ancient times, sailors took great risks in their small wooden ships. They had few, if any, charts or maps. The position of the sun gave them simple bearings. At night, the positions of the stars guided them. It might have been easier to sail at night because they could use the stars to work out their position. In daytime, they had very little to guide them, especially when the sun was hidden behind cloud. To help them find their way to safe harbours, or to avoid dangerous rocks, beacons (fires) were lit in certain places. Beacons could help them by day and by night.
I based my drawing on pictures in various books.
These beacons were sometimes placed on the tops of towers. They could be seen from far away. In modern times, such towers are called lighthouses. The greatest of all beacons in ancient times was on a small island near the city of Alexandria in Egypt. It was called the Pharos of Alexandria. It was built around 300 BC and dedicated to the god Zeus Soter, Zeus the Saviour. A statue of Zeus stood on the top of the tower.
The Pharos stood on an enormous stone platform, about ten metres above sea level. It was approached by a ramp or a flight of stairs. The lower part was possibly in the form of a square tower. Above that, there was an octagonal (eight-sided) section nearly thirty metres high. On top of that section was another tower about eight metres tall. The five metre tall statue of Zeus stood at the very top. The total height is believed to have been about 122 metres (400 feet).
It was said by an ancient writer that its light could be seen 55 km away. Another claimed that it was more like 480 km. Ancient beacons consisted of wood or charcoal fires. There were not many trees in the area of Alexandria, so dried animal dung might have been used, too. The fire might at the top. It might have been at the bottom — large reflecting mirrors could have been used to strengthen and reflect the rays of light. These would probably have been made of bronze or some other polished metal.
The Pharos: Challenges
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