The Salvaging of the Pharos

The Pharos of Alexandria

For sixteen centuries, the lighthouse at Alexandria lit the way for sailors within a sixty-kilometre radius. Since that time, it has not ceased to haunt men's imaginations. The emblem of a city that was designed on the sand by Alexander, "The Seventh Wonder of the World", the Pharos of Alexandria was completed in 283 by the king Ptolemy Philadephus. The three-storey tower, 135 metres high, vanished under the force of a series of earthquakes, with the last one dealing the fatal blow in the XIVth century. Travellers and historians searched in vain for its traces in the Bay of Alexandria on Pharos island, which had given its name to this mythical tower. However, for the first time, in 1994, French archaeologists sounded the submarine depths of Alexandria and started to excavate the first remains of what was probably the Pharos.

Cement blocks used as
a breakwater

In 1993, operations were begun to counteract the destructive force of the Mediterranean Sea and protect the foundations of the Mameluke fort at Qaitbay, built in 1477 on the eastern tip of Pharos island. Several hundred cement blocks were thrown down at the foot of the edifice so as to form a breakwater. An Egyptian film director, Asma el-Bakri, strongly advised the country's authorities to discontinue this operation as it directly threatened the ancient submarine ruins at the foot of the fort that had been discovered years before.

Photos : Stéphane Compoint © Corbis Sygma, Authorised Reproduction Only