Lighthouses from ancient times

Although references on the origin and early development of the lighthouses are scarce, it seems only logical that such references go back to early days of navigation when mankind sought to go beyond the visual limits of the first ports.

At first, when navigation was only done during daytime, without separating from the coast or ever losing sight of solid ground, aids to navigation were confined to the mere recognition of the geographical features of the landscape. Things changed when such identifications became more difficult and elements that made it possible to identify the coastline had to be introduced, thus giving rise to artificial aids to navigation, in other words, lighthouses.

In this regard, examples are found in all five continents, although they greatly differ as to typologies. First, they were all associated to mythological characters and magical properties were attributed to them but with the passing of time men became the builders of their own lighthouses.

In all ancient civilisations whether in the Mediterranean area – Egyptians, Phoenicians Greeks or Romans or in the Eastern area –the China of the Shang and Zhou dynasties - or in America –Aztecs, Mayan and Inca – a variety of more of less complicated aids to the navigation systems were developed. Such systems have not reached us or, when they have, they have done so in the form of mere archaeological evidence.

In this regard, the Tower of Hercules is the last link of a great of chain made up by the great lighthouses of Ancient Times, which includes such emblematic cases as the lighthouse of Alexandria or the Colossus of Rhodes, which were listed by Antipatros of Tessaloniki as part of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In sheer contrast to other lighthouses lost to time such as the lighthouse of Ostia, that of Naples (Italy) or the abovementioned one of Alexandria (Egypt), the Tower of Hercules is the only aid to navigation that has remained operational of all the towers guiding ships that were built by the Romans whether in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic Ocean.

Further information on Lighthouses from ancient times [.PDF]