Standing like stern sentinels along the coastline, lighthouses have not only captured the imagination of poets and romantics but have also played a crucial role in ensuring the safety of ships and sailors navigating dangerous waters. Here is their story.
History of Lighthouses
The lighthouse’s history is as old as maritime history. For ages, they have been the greatest aid to mariners in the across waves. The earliest lighthouse was constructed in Sigeon, now Kumkale (Çanakkale), in the seventh century BC. The 2nd century BC saw the construction of the lighthouses at Timée on the Thracian side of the Bosphorus and Chrysopolis (modern-day Üsküdar) on the opposite coast.
Sostratus of Cnidus constructed the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, on the island of Pharos in 280 BC. This lighthouse is 135 meters high, and neither its fame nor height has ever been surpassed. It was devastated by an earthquake in the 14th century.
Ultimately, it was the 18th century’s innovative use of lenses and mirrors that transformed the concept of lighthouses. The Eddystone Lighthouse, built off the coast of England in 1759, is widely considered an iconic turning point in lighthouse design. Its architect, John Smeaton, pioneered the use of interlocking stones, influencing lighthouse design for years to come.
Guiding The Lights
The capacity of a lighthouse to direct ships safely across hazardous waters is crucial to its function. Lighthouses provide seafarers with a point of reference amidst the wide expanse of the sea by providing a constant beam of light, sometimes marked by a unique sequence of flashes. These beacons were lifelines in an era before GPS and advanced navigational aids, preventing many shipwrecks and assuring the safe passage of marine trade.
Every lighthouse’s light-producing apparatus is built around an intricate optical system. A feat of engineering, the famous Fresnel lens was created by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the 19th century. This lens, which is made of concentric glass prisms, gathers and enlarges light from the source to produce a strong, concentrated beam that can be seen far away.
Flickering flames were the main characters in the early days of lighthouses, spreading their warm warmth across the water. The lamps’ characteristic and much-romanticized glow was produced by burning whale oil, tallow, and subsequently kerosene as their fuel. Electric lamps, a revolutionary advance in efficiency and dependability, were instead developed as part of the progression of lighthouse technology. Powerful electric bulbs, such as halogen, xenon, or LED lamps, which can produce bright, far-reaching beams, are used in modern lighthouses.
In Popular Culture
The symbolism of a single bright light leading a lost soul home, of the lonely and windswept lighthouse keeper gazing out to sea, of the call of the sea itself, and, of course, a stone tower that would fit in a fairytale world has long captured the romantic imaginations of writers and creators. Despite the fact that real-life lighthouse keepers have grown harder to find, it’s no surprise that lighthouses are so prevalent in pop culture. Some recent films are great examples of this.
One great cinema masterpiece gave its name from the best savior on the shore. A psychological period horror about two lighthouse keepers on a desolate island and the toll that isolation takes on their sanity, The Lighthouse was originally planned as a fresh twist on the Edgar Allen Poe tale. The Lighthouse, starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, is a gloomy and unsettling film that was shot in black and white to emphasize the scary characteristics of the lighthouse keepers.
2016 drama, The Light Between Oceans can be another example. The Light Between Oceans, which is based on M. L. Stedman’s book of the same name, tells the tale of a childless couple caring for a lighthouse following World War One. The two take it as providence when a newborn baby washes up in a boat on their shore and decide to keep her rather than take the chance that she would wind up in an orphanage. However, nothing is ever so easy, and eventually, she is found there by her birth mother. The Light Between Oceans, a narrative of love, family, forgiveness, and loss, is the epitome of a tearjerker, with the lighthouse taking center stage.