The picturesque Lighthouse at the entrance of the harbour welcomes visitors and prepares them for Chania’s city colour and style. Along the waterfront, neoclassical buildings, colourful fishing boats, yachts and sailing boats mix with each other, while in Chania Old Harbour the imposing Lighthouse evokes something of its past fascination.
A Fascinated History
The first known lighthouse in history started to be built in 296 B.C. and was completed in 280 B.C. on the Pharos islet at the NE end of the harbour of Alexandria, Egypt. Its architect was the Greek Sostratos, son of Dexiphanis, from Knidos in Karia, during the time of Ptolemy Philadelphos.
The lighthouse was 157 m high and its luminosity was in the range of 30 nautical miles, lighting the coast and aiding navigation. It stopped operating in 1303 A.D. after a severe earthquake. Its partial collapse began in 1326 and unfortunately, in 1349 it collapsed completely.
«Ελλήνων σωτήρα φάρου σκοπόν, ω άνα Πρωτεύ / Σώστρατος έστησε Δεξιφάνους Κνίδιος. / Ου γαρ εν Αιγύπτω σκοπιωρείσθ’ απονήσων / αλλά χαμαί χηλή ναύλοχος εκτέταται. / Του χάριν ευθείαν τε και όρθιον αιθέρα τέμνων / πύργος όδ’ απλάτων φαίνεται από σπιλάδων / ήματι˙ παννύχιος δε θέων συν κύμματι ναύτης / όψεται εκ κορυφής πυρ μέγα καιόμενον / και κεν επ’ αυτού δράμοι, Ταύρου Κέρας ουδ’ αν αμάρτοι / Σωτήρος, Πρωτεύ ξείνιε, τήδε πλέων»Jacques-Joseph Champollion-Figeac by Posidippus (epigrammatic poet)
Since very early times, the founding and operating of lighthouses have been related to the geographic location of each country and man’s necessity to travel beyond known boundaries and discover the far corners of the world. From the late 18th c, the demands of maritime trade and navigation required the development of an organized network of lighthouses which would protect all those sailing through narrow straits or regions with dangerous reefs and shoals and guide them to a harbour.
The Egyptian Lighthouse of Chania
The Egyptian Lighthouse, which is one of the oldest in the world, prevails in the old Port of Chania. The sea-tossed stone lighthouse which is located at the edge of the breakwater is not only the “guard” of the old Venetian port but also its most famous jewel and its most photographed monument.
The lighthouse of Chania differs from others of its time and cannot be classified in any standard lighthouse category. The architecture reminds one of a minaret, and it does not include a lighthouse keeper’s sleeping quarters, given the fact that it is located in an inhabited area. It is 21 metres high, its beam could reach a distance of 7 miles, and it is one of the oldest lighthouses in Europe, if not in the entire world. Its foundations were laid by the Venetians on natural rock, circa between 1595 and 1601.
Many of its characteristics remind one of the local, Venetian architecture. The material used for building the city walls was also used for the construction of the lighthouse, which has an octagonal base, a 16-corner middle section and another, circular section. The original Venetian lighthouse was built around the late 16th century to protect the harbour. A chain could be connected from the base of the lighthouse to the fortress of Firkas in order to close the harbour. During the Turkish occupation, the lighthouse fell into disrepair and was eventually rebuilt between 1824 and 1832 in the form of a minaret.
The modern lighthouse is often referred to as ‘ Egyptian’ because it was built 28 during a time when Crete was occupied by Egyptian troops who were supporting the weakening Ottoman Empire against the rebellious Cretans. The base of the lighthouse is still the original Venetian base although the Lion of St. Marc which was carved there has long gone.
The ‘Egyptian’ lighthouse was leaning badly due to bombings during WWII and earthquakes but it was extensively renovated in 2005 and now looks as good as new.