Jon Knox
Jon Knox

10 of the World's Most Beautiful Lighthouses

Jon Knox
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.

Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

Big Questions
Why Don't Valentine Hearts Look Like Real Hearts?

Love is in the air this month, and images of two-lobed hearts are all over everything: candy, cards, decorations, you name it. That the heart is symbolic of love and passion isn't surprising—ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, including Aristotle, thought the organ was the center of all emotions. Why the heart symbol you see everywhere in February doesn't look anything like an actual human heart, though, is a little less clear.

The symbol goes at least as far back as the 1400s, when it appeared on European playing cards to mark one of the red suits, though it may even be older than that. The shape is pretty much a mystery, though. There are a few different hypotheses to explain it, but none of them have been confirmed.

One suggested origin for the symbol is that it comes from the ancient African city-state of Cyrene, whose merchants traded in the rare, and now extinct, plant silphium. The plant was used to season food, but doubled as a contraceptive. A silphium seedpod looks like a valentine's heart, so the shape became associated with sex, and then with love.

Another possibility is that the shape is a crude representation of a pubic mound, the vulva, a pair of breasts, buttocks, or a pair of testicles. It may even have come from a poor attempt at drawing an actual heart. A lousy artist, an inaccurate description of the subject, or a malformed model all could have led to that shape.

The Catholic church explains the symbol as coming from a vision that Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque had, where the "Sacred Heart of Jesus"—associated with love and devotion by Catholics—appeared in this shape surrounded by thorns. But Alacoque didn't have this vision until the late 1600s, well after the symbol was already documented. This makes it the unlikeliest of origin stories, but the church's frequent use of the shape was probably a driving factor in popularizing it as a symbol of love.

This story originally appeared in 2012.


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