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Jon Knox

10 of the World's Most Beautiful Lighthouses

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Jon Knox

Once a necessary tool to warn mariners of land masses, lighthouses are now seen as iconic emblems of sea-travel and waterways—though many still offer navigation assistance to ships. Here are a few of the most beautiful active lighthouses in the world.

Because there are so many stunning lighthouses the world over, I limited this article to only include lighthouses that are still active. So, if you’re really upset that your favorite lighthouse isn’t included in this list, that could be the reason—that and the fact that there are simply so many great ones out there.

1. Lindau Lighthouse, Germany

Flickr: Andreas Flohr

The southernmost lighthouse in Germany, the Lindau Lighthouse is locaed on Lake Constance, Lindau. It was completed in 1856, when it took over the port’s previous light station in the Mangtrum Tower, constructed in 1230. The 108 foot tall structure is quite unique among lighthouses because it also houses a massive clock that can be viewed from the city.

The tower was converted to electricity in 1936 and automated in the early 1990s. It is open to visitors and provides information on local nature and the city’s shipping industry.

2. Fanad Lighthouse, Ireland

Flickr: myheimu

After a large ship sank in their waters in 1804, the residents of the Fanad peninsula started to demand a lighthouse be built on the Fanad Head. In 1818, the 90 foot structure was completed and lit. In 1909, a new, brighter light was installed that operated on a weight-driven clockwork rotation machine, built to display six flashes every fifteen seconds. Eventually, this apparatus was replaced in 1975, when the light was converted to electric power. 

3. Portland Head Light, Maine

Wikipedia: rapidfire

This historical Maine lighthouse is located at the entrance to Portland Harbor in Cape Elizabeth. It was completed in 1791, making it the oldest lighthouse in Maine and one of the oldest lighthouses in America. The 80 foot tower was raised during the Civil War to help ward off increasingly common ship raids. It was lowered to its original height in 1881, and raised back in 1893, after mariners complained. In 1891, the current keeper’s house was built, which now operates as a maritime museum within Fort Williams Park.

The lighthouse is still operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was automated in 1989.

4. Yaquina Bay Light, Oregon

Flickr: Cindy MC

Soon after Newport, Oregon was founded, the residents recognized the need for a lighthouse to protect ships visiting their port, and the resulting Yaquina Bay Light was completed in 1871. Only three years later, the lighthouse was decommissioned after a newer lighthouse was constructed. In 1946, the structure was scheduled to be demolished, but the Lincoln County Historical Society was able to postpone the destruction by working to raise money for its preservation. Finally, in 1951, the building was recognized as a historical site, where it served as a county museum for 18 years.  

In 1970, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, which allowed it to be restored under the Historic Preservation Act. Finally, in 1996, after over one hundred years of deactivation, the tower was re-lit. It is now recognized as an official U.S. Coast Guard aid that is privately maintained. The structure remains one of the only lighthouses on the West Coast in which the living quarters are housed in the same building as the light.

The lighthouse is open for public viewing, but if you’re superstitious, you might was to skip this lighthouse, because it is reputed to be haunted.

5. The St. Augustine Light, Florida

Image courtesy of Kim Young Seng

St. Augustine was home to the first lighthouse in Florida, though the first structure fell into the ocean after its foundation eroded. The newer, current lighthouse was constructed on Anastasia Island and completed in 1874. The building received indoor plumbing in 1907 and the light was electrified in 1936 and automated in 1955. After lighthouse keepers were no longer needed, the keeper’s house began to be rented out to local residents.

By 1970, the grounds were declared surplus by the U.S. Coast Guard, so St. Johns County purchased the property. Ten years later, the Junior Service League of St. Augustine signed a 99 year lease with the county and a 30 year lease with the Coast Guard (which still owned the lighthouse itself) and began restoring the buildings.  In 1981, the tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 1994, the property has been open to the public as part of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Admission fees help support continued preservation of the lighthouse and maritime archaeology programs. The organization continues to operate the lighthouse as a private aid to navigation.

6. Peggys Point Lighthouse, Canada

Image courtesy of Dennis Jarvis

Perhaps the most famous lighthouse in Canada, the current Peggys Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1915. It marks the eastern entrance of St. Margarets Bay and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nova Scotia.

The original wooden lighthouse that served the area was converted to the keeper’s dwelling after the current structure was completed, but it was damaged and removed after 1954’s Hurricane Edna. In 1958, the lighthouse was automated. For a long time, the lighthouse used to contain a Canada Post office that was in operation during the summer, but it was closed down in 2009, due to health concerns related to mold.

7. Start Point Lighthouse, England

Image courtesy of Jon Knox

One of 29 lighthouses designed by engineer James Walker, the Start Point tower features gothic elements with a crenellated parapet. Inside the tower features a stunning cantilevered granite staircase. Originally the keeper’s living quarters were inside the tower, but they were removed in 1871 after exterior quarters were completed. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England has listed the Devon structure as a grade II listed building and it is open to the public during the summer.

8. Tower of Hercules, Spain

Image courtesy of Alessio Damato

The oldest lighthouse in the world, the Tower of Hercules, also referred to as the Corunna Lighthouse or Farum Brigantium, was constructed sometime in the second century. It is located in northwest Spain outside the city of Corunna. The Roman-built tower is believed to have been based on the Lighthouse of Alexandria. While the 180 foot building is around 1900 years old, the structure is not entirely original—during a 1791 renovation, the three-story tower was given an additional level.

These days, the Tower of Hercules is a National Monument of Spain and, since 2009, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pretty impressive considering the lighthouse is still in use after almost two millennia.

9. Bass Harbor Head Station, Maine

Image courtesy of Matthew Paulson

Located in the Acadia National Park in the southeast corner of Mount Desert Island, this beautiful lighthouse remains a private residence for one lucky Coast Guard member and his family. While you cannot enter the 1858 lighthouse or the former keeper’s quarters, you can get close to the light and warning bell and get a great view of the structure by travelling a concrete path and a few wooden stairs that are part of the park grounds.

The lighthouse was automated in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

10. White Shoal Light, Michigan

Built in 1912, the White Shoal Light remains unique not only as the only aluminum-topped lighthouse on the Great Lakes, but also as the only “barber pole” lighthouse in the U.S. The Lake Michigan light is located 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge and because it was constructed so far from land, it was considered a great engineering feat when it was constructed. These days, if you want to get a close look at the structure, you’ll have to take a boat or a seaplane.

The building is one of the most famous lighthouses in the Great Lakes and was even featured on a license plate for the State of Michigan in an effort to help fund lighthouse preservation in the state.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
8 New Ancient Ships Found at the 'Shipwreck Capital of the World'
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The number of wrecks discovered at the "shipwreck capital of the world" continues to grow. According to Haaretz, the latest find adds eight new wreck discoveries, bringing the total up to 53 sunken ships in a 17-mile stretch off the coast of Fourni, Greece.

As Mental Floss reported, in 2015 archaeologists working off the coast of Fourni identified 22 shipwrecks dating back to 700 BCE—already an historic find. But additional dives conducted by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the RPM Nautical Foundation have continued to yield new discoveries. Nine months later, in June 2016, the Fourni Underwater survey turned up 23 more ancient, Medieval, and post-Medieval shipwrecks in the area with the help of local fishermen and sponge divers. The latest expedition took place in June 2017.

Divers inspect and survey an ancient amphora near the shipwreck site.

The Fourni archipelago, consisting of 13 tiny islands, never hosted a sizable town, but it was an important stopping point for shipping routes between the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and on to Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt. The area may have been a hotspot for ships seeking safe harbor from violent storms in that part of the Aegean Sea, as Peter Campbell of the RPM Nautical Foundation told Haaretz. It wasn’t an entirely safe destination for merchant ships, though; it was also a pirate haven.

Some of the latest wrecks found include a ship from the Greek Classical Period—around 500 BCE to 320 BCE—carrying Greek amphorae (ceramic jars), a Roman ship with origins in the Iberian Peninsula, and anchors dating back to the Archaic Period (800 to 479 BCE). Researchers found more stone, lead, and iron anchors all the way up to the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until the 15th century.

Two conservationists sit at a table working with shards of ancient pottery.

The ancient trade routes that crisscrossed the Mediterranean (and the dangers of ancient seafaring) have made the area a fertile ground for millennia-old shipwrecks even outside of Fourni. As recently as 2016, divers off the coast of Israel stumbled upon a 1600-year-old merchant ship filled with Roman artifacts. In 2015, Italian divers discovered the wreck of a 2000-year-old ship carrying terra cotta tiles in deep waters near Sardinia.

The Fourni project is still ongoing, and researchers plan to conduct a fourth season of underwater surveying in 2018. Once the project completes a full survey and documentation of the area, the researchers may consider excavating some of the wrecks.

[h/t Haaretz]

All photos by Vasilis Mentogianis courtesy the RPM Nautical Foundation

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J. P. Oleson
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science
Time Has Only Strengthened These Ancient Roman Walls
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J. P. Oleson

Any seaside structure will erode and eventually crumble into the water below. That’s how things work. Or at least that’s how they usually work. Scientists say the ancient Romans figured out a way to build seawalls that actually got tougher over time. They published their findings in the journal American Mineralogist.

The walls’ astonishing durability is not, itself, news. In the 1st century CE, Pliny the Elder described the phenomenon in his Naturalis Historia, writing that the swell-battered concrete walls became "a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger."

We know that Roman concrete involved a mixture of volcanic ash, lime, seawater, and chunks of volcanic rock—and that combining these ingredients produces a pozzolanic chemical reaction that makes the concrete stronger. But modern cement involves a similar reaction, and our seawalls fall apart like anything else beneath the ocean's corrosive battering ram.

Something else was clearly going on.

To find out what it was, geologists examined samples from walls built between 55 BCE and 115 CE. They used high-powered microscopes and X-ray scanners to peer into the concrete's basic structure, and a technique called raman spectroscopy to identify its ingredients.

Microscope image of crystals in ancient Roman concrete.
Courtesy of Marie Jackson

Their results showed that the pozzolanic reaction during the walls' creation was just one stage of the concrete toughening process. The real magic happened once the walls were built, as they sat soaking in the sea. The saltwater did indeed corrode elements of the concrete—but in doing so, it made room for new crystals to grow, creating even stronger bonds.

"We're looking at a system that's contrary to everything one would not want in cement-based concrete," lead author Marie Jackson, of the University of Utah, said in a statement. It's one "that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater."

The goal now, Jackson says, is to reproduce the precise recipe and toughen our own building materials. But that might be harder than it sounds.

"Romans were fortunate in the type of rock they had to work with," she says. "They observed that volcanic ash grew cements to produce the tuff. We don't have those rocks in a lot of the world, so there would have to be substitutions made."

We still have a lot to learn from the ancient walls and their long-gone architects. Jackson and her colleagues will continue to pore through Roman texts and the concrete itself, looking for clues to its extraordinary strength.

"The Romans were concerned with this," Jackson says. "If we're going to build in the sea, we should be concerned with it too."

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