Wonders of the ancient world: Lighthouse of Alexandria a popular subject on ancient coins

Pieces provide knowledge of how landmark looked in antiquity
By , Coin World
Published : 05/19/14
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One of the longest surviving of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the Lighthouse or Pharos of Alexandria, is featured on coinage that is the most readily available and affordable. 

Some of what is known today about the lighthouse can be traced to its many appearances on coinage. 

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was located on a small island called Pharos near the city of Alexandria. It was completed around 270 B.C. during the reign of Ptolemy II, who also built the famous Library of Alexandria. The massive lighthouse was designed by architect Sostratos of Knidos

The city, still a metropolis in modern-day Egypt, was named for Alexander the Great, and the lighthouse helped to guide ships plying the Nile River into and out of the city’s busy harbor. 

In the designs seen on the coins, the lighthouse had three tiers: a square level at the bottom, an octagonal level in the middle and a cylindrical top. 

A 16-foot statue, most likely of Ptolemy II or Alexander the Great, the city’s namesake, stood at the top. 

Modern scholarship suggests that the lighthouse was about 380 feet tall before it was destroyed during a series of earthquakes from 956 to 1323. 

In the 1990s, explorers discovered some of its remains at the bottom of the Nile.

The lighthouse shines on, however, thanks to the abundance of coins on which it is depicted.

Affordable examples of varying quality are available for less than $1,000, but the market for better examples is rather strong. 

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