Sunday, June 07, 2009

Midstone Project sheds light on construction of Alexandria's Pharos Lighthouse

The Midstone Project has released information it has compiled about the construction materials used in the building of the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria. The research team has even traced the materials to their quarries of origin. This lengthy article also provides an excellent overview of the history of the lighthouse and descriptions of it provided by ancient travelers and scholars.

Since that time every archaeologist has dreamed of the resurrection of such a great monument. But can Alexandria's Pharos really be reconstructed in its original, glorious form?

This question has perplexed archaeologists and scientists. They do not really know the materials used in construction, nor the exact shape and height.

Three years ago, however, answers to these questions were made possible when Egypt participated in a three-year-long European Union project called the MIDSTONE. This project aimed at preserving ancient Mediterranean sites in terms of their ornamental and building stone through determining stone provenance to proposing conservation and restoration techniques. The MIDSTONE project proposes to contribute to the knowledge and conservation of three of the most important ancient sites in North Africa: Voluble in Morocco, Djemila in Algeria and the Alexandria lighthouse in Egypt. An atlas of the stones of every site will be also provided within the project.

This year the Atlas of the Stones of Alexandria Lighthouse is being presented in a three-day conference at Cairo University and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Amr El-Tibi, the project coordinator, says the scientific objective of the project is to identify the stones of the lighthouse and determine their provenance in terms of the geographical area. The data and results obtained are being presented in an accessible form including photographs and maps, i.e. the Atlas.

El-Tibi explained that a detailed study of the blocks was performed to categorise megascopically the main types of stones related to the Pharos, and a first series of 32 samples was collected. As most of the stones related to the lighthouse were still under water, a second series of 35 samples was collected by divers from submerged architectonic blocks. The whole of the 67 archaeological samples were described megascopically and categorised in the laboratory in terms of their petrographic type of stone and physical chemical properties. Studies revealed that the Pharos was indeed composed of granite, greywacke limestone, fine to coarse-grained sandstones, marble and sandstones with dolomitic cement to sandy dolostone found at the basement of Qaitbay fort.

The stones derived from two quarries not far from Alexandria at Mexx and Abusir, as well as from quarries in Moqattam near Cairo; Samalut; Minya; and Drunka in Assiut; Serai and Tarawan.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities )SCA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that he was very happy to introduce the results of this important project on the study of the stones of the Alexandria lighthouse. "This outstanding cooperative effort between the SCA and the European Union brought together teams from Egypt, France, Italy, Greece and Germany to identify and study remains of the lighthouse that are still at the site today," Hawass said.

He added that with the help of Empereur, who drew the attention to the location of the pieces lying submerged in the harbour of Alexandria, the team was able to classify the stone blocks that made up the remains of the lighthouse. One of the most interesting results, he said, was the identification of stones that they were able to match with the quarries from which they came. The provenance of the coarse-grained pink and grey granite blocks was from the quarries of Aswan, while pieces of greywacke were confirmed to have come from Wadi Hammamat. They also, Hawass said, succeeded in identifying the quarry in Greece from where the marble used in the lighthouse was obtained. - More: Al-Ahram Weekly Online