Lighthouse of Alexandria due for restoration, says expert

Ahmed Maged
6 Min Read

CAIRO: A tour guide is calling for rebuilding the Lighthouse of Alexandria, once identified as the Seven Wonders of the World and was severely damaged following a series of earthquakes that hit the Alexandrian coast over the past centuries.

Bassam El Shammaa is appealing to the concerned authorities and the people of Egypt to start a campaign to restore an ancient landmark.

“If we speak of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, we should shed the light on the Seven Wonders of the World, two of which were built by Egyptians, noted El Shammaa.

“True the ancient tower was set up by the ancient Greeks who ruled Egypt at that time, but why didn’t they build it in Greece? This was simply because Egypt was the only country with the required expertise capable of constructing such an edifice, argued El Shammaa.

However, El Shammaa added that it is not known that a lot of other lighthouses were built by Egyptian artisans, namely the lighthouse in Abu Sir in west of Alexandria – a large part of which still stands today.

He explained that the Lighthouse of Alexandria was the only wonder that continued to have a practical purpose until it collapsed. El Shammaa added that to reconstruct the tower that was said to have been 130 meters high, Egyptians would be earning back their reputation as qualified builders.

“‘Pharology,’ a science devoted to building lighthouses, borrowed its name from ‘Pharos’ the island where the Lighthouse of Alexandria stood, he said.

El Shammaa considers the lighthouse to be a real wonder given the fact that at the time, only wood fuel was used to operate such facilities. He explained that the mirrors in the tower reflected the light from the flame in a way that is impossible to miss by vessels even at long distances.

El Shammaa told Daily News Egypt that a new lighthouse is bound to become Alexandria’s new cultural emblem and place the costal city on the tourist map.

He suggested that it could also serve as a fortification, watchtower and a ship guide. He recommended setting up a special institute within its premises that specializes in teaching the science of building lighthouses.

According to Amwag, an Alexandria-based magazine, Dr Omar El Hadidi was the first to suggest in 1978 rebuilding the ancient wonder to Dr Fouad Helmy, then governor of Alexandria, who welcomed the idea and started promoting it in international media.

But after 32 Egyptian and international companies rivaled to take on the project, it was canceled when Helmy was replaced as governor by Mohamed Abdel Salam El-Mahgoub.

El-Mahgoub, according to Amwag, pressed ahead with the project, but the companies that were competing for the project had different agendas with commercial interests, with some suggesting building a glass or steel tower with laser beams to serve as a shopping mall at the same time.

Launching the project wouldn’t require a lot of research because luckily, the work has already been done. El Shammaa explained that many ancient documents (in writing and pictures) provide a comprehensive description of the lighthouse.

“The original location of the ancient landmark is well-known, which isn’t the case in other examples such as the tombs of Alexander the Great or Cleopatra. Also the lighthouse is featured in several ancient artworks such as The Well of Wonders, a fresco by Nicolas Schiel that dates back to 1669, as well as another fresco at the Saint Mark Cathedral in Venice, which was made to show the arrival of the first Gospel-carrying saint in Alexandria in the 13th century.

“In addition to giving a pictorial description of the site and building, the fresco also indicates that it operated between the 13th and 17th centuries, which refutes allegations that Qaitby, the reputed Mamluk,whose fort continues to stand in the lighthouse’s place, didn’t demolish the lighthouse to construct his fort.

The lighthouse was also mentioned in the texts of Greek and Arab globetrotters such as Strabos, Ibn Arabi and others, all of which show, along with the frescos and paintings, that the lighthouse was refurbished several times after the earthquakes started taking their toll on it.

“We have to examine all of them so that we can decide how it should be reconstructed. It was great to rebuild the Bibliotheca Alexandrina but I regret that the new design isn’t in line with the city’s character and doesn’t reflect its glorious past. If a new lighthouse is built, it should match the world’s expectations.

“It’s about time for the Egyptians who revived the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to breathe life into their ancient lighthouse, said El Shammaa.

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