Lighthouse of Alexandria
First broadcast date
Discovery of a female bust in pink granite, which was part of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, monument considered the seventh wonder of the world.
This bust was at the bottom of the sea for six centuries, the lighthouse having been destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th century.
WTN - International Exchanges
- Tourism and cultural sites / Archaeological sites
Credits / Cast
- Tripault Richard - Journalist
- Empereur Jean-Yves - Participant
- Egypt - Lower Egypt - Alexandria
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
We are all aware that the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built in the very first decades of the 3rd century BC, a mere fifty years after the city was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Its construction began under the reign of Ptolemy the First –he set its foundations – and was completed during the reign of his son, Ptolemy the Second. Located at the tip of the island of Pharos, which soon became the etymological source of all lighthouses, it was quickly ranked as a Wonder of the World because of its sheer size (estimated at 135 meters), its architecture and its exceptional décor. It was both a means of propaganda for the Ptolemy dynasty and a useful navigational tool, guiding sailors nearing the Alexandria harbor until the fourteenth century AD when it was fully destroyed by an earthquake in 1303, after withstanding many quakes that eroded its base over the centuries. The stones of this colossal edifice were reused for the Citadel of Qaitbay, built in the fifteeth century AD. But a large part of the lighthouse’s sculpted decoration and wall foundations fell into the sea at the foot of the lighthouse after the last quake. The enormous chunks were located during the eighteenth century AD and the submerged site was explored during the twentieth century AD. However, it was not before the nineties that a large enough operation led to their rediscovery in 1994 during an emergency underwater dig under the joint leadership of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the newly-created Center for Alexandrian Studies, under the direction of French archeologist Jean-Yves Empereur, director of research at the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) and former general secretary of the French school of Athena. The report is situated right before a series of just as exceptional findings during 1995 and 1996. Not only were thousands of architectural blocs discovered (5000 of them), but also sphinxes, huge statues of monarchs such Ptolemy the Pharaoh or the “majestic bust of a woman”, a huge feminine statue found the previous year and extracted from the waters in front of cameras. Viewers are invited to a reenactment of its extraction. The French archeologist is a master of the images he offers, such as the very moment that the pink granite feminine bust is taken out of the water that runs off it in rivulets. The choice of such a moment goes back to an archeological tradition that concerns itself to valorize not only the remains it uncovered but also the actors behind it. The rediscovery of the lighthouse itself and a remarkable part of its environment such as the statues of monarchs that circled its base by a team of Egyptian and foreign (French in this case) archeologists show again the position given to common and transnational operations that go beyond national archeology in contemporary heritage talks.
Coll., La gloire d'Alexandrie. L'Égypte d'Alexandre à Cléopâtre. Exposition au musée du Petit Palais du 6 mai au 26 juillet 1998, Paris-Musées, Paris, 1999.
Jean-Yves Empereur, Alexandrie redécouverte, Fayard, Paris, 1998,
Jean-Yves Empereur, Le Phare d'Alexandrie, la Merveille retrouvée, collection « Découvertes », Paris, Gallimard, 2004,