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Lighthouses of the Aegean

      Φάροι του Αιγαίου (5/3/2006 v.1) Lighthouses of the Aegean (5/4/2006 v.1)

Author(s) : Benos-Palmer Nikos (7/30/2005)
Translation : Dovletis Onoufrios (2/13/2007)

For citation: Benos-Palmer Nikos, "Lighthouses of the Aegean", 2007,
Cultural Portal of the Aegean Archipelago

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1. Historical retrospection

There are many findings and references attesting the existence of lighthouses in ancient times. Before the lighthouse of Alexandria was built, they were called Beacons. After that one was built, all beacons, which needed great effort, facilities and human struggle to be built and operate, were called Lighthouses.

It’s characteristic, that at times of whirl and conflict the seas were dark. On the other hand, at times of stability, when trade and communications were carried out freely, lighthouses not only operated but also increased. Therefore, in a sense, lighthouses are tokens of civilization, peace and prosperity.

From the 1821 Revolution up to 1935, lighthouses increased significantly at passages of the Aegean. The bon-mot of E. Lycoudis, founder of the lighthouse system, is characteristic: the Aegean looked like a gigantic chandelier.

World War II left also its marks on lighthouses. Liberation found the lighthouses system completely destroyed. By the end of 1944, only 28 operated, whereas before the war there were about 400.

Nowadays, lighthouses are under the Lighthouse Service of the Senior Service, which is housed since 1957 at the Palataki of Piraeus.

The Lighthouse Service was initially under the Navy Ministry and the Internal Affairs Ministry, but since 1887 it came under the Navy Ministry as an independent section. Its merge with the Hydrographic Department in 1910 lasted up to 1919, when the Lighthouse Service became an independent section, coming directly under the Navy Ministry.

2. General description

Nowadays, we find lighthouses in Greece built on the initiative of the British (Ionian islands) and the French (eastern Aegean, Dodecanese and elsewhere), as well as the Greek state with the technical and scientific collaboration with French experts.

These are solid stone-built buildings, constructed with longstanding materials, fine design and ergonomic autonomy. They are located at places significant for seafaring, inaccessible and unprotected from weather conditions.

Lighthouses are a functional structure, a complex “instrument” comprised of living rooms for the lighthouse-keepers, store-rooms for useful supplies for the lighthouse’s operation, the tower, the cage with the lighting machine at the top of the tower, the lighthouse-keepers themselves and the ways of accessing the lighthouse, from land or sea.

The height and size of lighthouses differ depending on their location as to seafaring and their location’s significance.

3. Living rooms for lighthouse-keepers

Lighthouse-keepers were an indispensable part of lighthouses during that time. Initially, they used to live in lighthouses with their families, and after the Lighthouse Service was organized into a separate department, they used to live in three or fours working in shifts. After the ‘70s, lighthouses gradually became automatic, operating with electricity and lime-burner. People thus left lighthouses, making the whole ergonomic design of the building unnecessary.

The lighthouse-keepers’ living rooms included the dormitories, the kitchen, the rainwater tank, the kiln and the hygiene facilities.

Lighthouse-keepers’ dormitories were plain, taking up one or two rooms. The kitchen had a stove with woods substituted for a gas one later, and an oil fridge substituted for an electrical one later. The kiln was out of the building, next to it, as were the hygiene facilities most of the time.

4. Supplies’ rooms

Store rooms for useful supplies for the lighthouse’s operation included tools, expendable supplies, special parts and of course fuel (oil).

5. The tower

There are several types of the tower rising from the lighthouse building, depending on seafaring demands and geomorphology. Therefore, we have towers developing from the center of the building, others adjacent to the exterior wall centrally opposite the entrance, others adjacent at a corner of the building and others completely separate from the building. They are usually cylindrical, pentagonal or hexagonal. Their height ranges from 7 to 30 m.

They have an internal staircase leading up to the top, at the lighting machine cage. Tower stairs are a remarkable construction element. Most of them are specially made of marble, local stone, or cast with mosaic; few are made of cast iron.

6. Cage – lighting machine

The cage with the circular glass surface is at the top of the tower. The lighting machine consists of the light source (lime-burner flame, oil fuse, lamps and head lamps), the lens assembly and the clockwork assembly. Rotation is achieved with a weight going down slowly from the cage to the tower’s base (like the “cuckoos” of old wall clocks).

The job of lighthouse keepers included the general maintenance of the building, fuelling, setting the fire and putting it out, and taking the weight up again every 2 to 4 hours. Lighthouses “identify” themselves with a combination of bright and dark intervals unique to every lighthouse, so that observers recognize them.

In the late ‘70s, lighthouses were adapted to solar power systems for the first time. Some “lanterns” had already been automated. Automaton was finally adopted, making keepers unnecessary, which led to the buildings not being well maintained and to lighthouses often being deserted.

Nowadays, the Lighthouse Service runs 1300 beacons throughout Greece.




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