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.

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Darren Puttock, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
7 Entertaining Examples of Ancient Graffiti
Graffiti of gladiators from Pompeii at the Naples National Archaeological Museum
Graffiti of gladiators from Pompeii at the Naples National Archaeological Museum
Darren Puttock, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Graffiti from centuries and even millennia ago can reveal the grievances, passions, games, and ordinary business dealings of regular people from the long-lost past. Pompeii might be the most famous spot to find such scrawls, but it’s not the only place where bygone messages have been found. Here are seven examples of graffiti from the ancient world.

1. “I VISITED AND I DID NOT LIKE ANYTHING EXCEPT THE SARCOPHAGUS!”

A Chinese teen visiting Egypt prompted outrage when he wrote his name on the wall of the 3500-year-old Luxor Temple in 2013. But he was hardly the first traveler to commit such an offense—there’s a long tradition of leaving “I was here” graffiti while visiting Egyptian ruins. One team of researchers recently counted over 1000 inscriptions inside the tomb of pharaoh Ramesses VI in the Valley of the Kings—many of which were from Romans who visited the site 2000 years ago. Their ancient declarations include familiar complaints of disappointed tourists: “I visited and I did not like anything except the sarcophagus!” and "I cannot read the hieroglyphs!"

2.“YOU LOVE IRIS, BUT SHE DOES NOT LOVE YOU.”

Graffiti in a Pompeii pub
Graffiti in a Pompeii pub
Plaàtarte, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Pompeii has dominated the study of ancient graffiti, and for good reason. There are many inscriptions and painted messages that survive on the walls of this Roman city in southern Italy, which was famously buried in volcanic ash in 79 CE. And these examples often offer rich insight into the lives of the city’s residents. Behold the drama of a love triangle, apparently played out on the wall of a bar (not the one above) in taunting messages between two men named Severus and Successus:

“Successus, a weaver, loves the innkeeper’s slave girl named Iris. She, however, does not love him. Still, he begs her to have pity on him. His rival wrote this. Goodbye.”

(Reply by Successus) “Envious one, why do you get in the way. Submit to a handsomer man and one who is being treated very wrongly and good looking.”

(Reply by Severus) “I have spoken. I have written all there is to say. You love Iris, but she does not love you.”

3. “NIKASITIMOS WAS HERE MOUNTING TIMIONA."

Declarations of love and boasts of sexual conquest are not just the domain of modern bathroom-wall graffiti. Plenty of examples of such messages can be found in the ancient world. Erotic graffiti recently identified at the Greek island of Astypalaia documents a 2500-year-old tryst between two men: “Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona." The general secretary at the Greek Epigraphic Society, Angelos Matthaiou, told The Guardian: "Whoever wrote the erotic inscription referring to Timiona was very well trained in writing. The letters have been very skillfully inscribed on the face of the rock, evidence that it was not just philosophers, scholars and historians who were trained in the art of writing but ordinary people living on islands too."

4. A MENAGERIE OF WILD ANIMALS

A winged lion at the Great Enclosure of Musawwarat es-Sufra
A winged lion graffito at the Great Enclosure of Musawwarat es-Sufra

Crocodiles, elephants, rhinoceroses, baboons, and dogs are among the wild animals inscribed on the blocks of a labyrinth-like complex known as the Great Enclosure of Musawwarat es-Sufra. This monument, in modern-day Sudan, was part of the Kingdom of Kush when the drawings were made more than 2000 years ago. Some of the animals also include religious iconography, such as a lion with wings and crown said to represent the deity Apedemak. Archaeologists don't know the function of many of the rooms in the complex, but some have used the graffiti to support their theories about the purposes of different sections. They've proposed interpretations ranging from animal trading stations and elephant training grounds to a holding pen for prey that could be “hunted” by royals who needed to prove their abilities.

5. THE “DRUNKS OF MENKAURE” VS. THE “FRIENDS OF KHUFU GANG.”

The tens of thousands of laborers who built the pyramids in Egypt were divided into gangs of workers—and they took credit for their efforts. Archaeologists who study the pyramids have found inscriptions such as “Drunks of Menkaure” and “Friends of Khufu Gang” (Menkaure and Khufu being pyramid-building Egyptian kings) on bricks at the monuments of Giza. On some monuments, there's graffiti from one gang on one side of the monument, and graffiti from what archeologists think is a competing gang on the other.

6. A WORD SQUARE

A Sator word square in France
A Sator Square in France

In 2003, archaeologists discovered a new cache of graffiti written on the plaster walls of the basement of the Roman basilica at Smyrna, an ancient Greek city in modern-day Turkey. Scribbled sometime after an earthquake in 177 CE, the inscriptions include the earliest known example of a word square in Greek, made up of five, five-letter words that can be read the same way either horizontally and vertically, like a 2D palindrome. (The meanings of the words aren't quite clear.) A better-known Latin version of this puzzle is called a Sator Square, as pictured above:

SATOR
AREPO
TENET
OPERA
ROTAS

The five words can be read from the right, left, top, and bottom. While their meaning has been debated, they may relate to a farmer named Arepo who is using wheels (rotas).

7. “MY HAND WILL WEAR OUT BUT THE INSCRIPTION WILL REMAIN.”

Though the vast majority of graffiti has surely disappeared over time, some graffiti-writers hoped their markings might outlast them. Take, for example, this Ancient North Arabian piece of graffiti at Palmyra in modern-day Syria, which was written well over a thousand years ago: “This is an inscription that I wrote with my own hand. My hand will wear out but the inscription will remain.”

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Images: iStock. Collage: Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss.
15 Jokes From the World's Oldest Jokebook
Images: iStock. Collage: Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss.
Images: iStock. Collage: Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss.

The oldest recorded joke—a lowbrow Sumerian quip stating "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap"—dates back to 1900 BCE, eking out a pharaoh wisecrack from Ancient Egypt by a solid three centuries.

But to pilfer one of the oldest jokes in the book means dusting off the Philogelos (meaning "Laughter Lover"), a Greek anthology of more than 200 jokes from the fourth or fifth century. From gags about dunces to jests at the expense of great thinkers, here are 15 jokes from the oldest existing collection of jokes, as translated by now-retired classical languages professor William Berg.

1. A STUDENT DUNCE GOES SWIMMING

comedians
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A student dunce went swimming and almost drowned. So now he swears he'll never get into water until he's really learned to swim."

2. AN INTELLECTUAL VISITS A FRIEND

ancient dancers
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"An intellectual came to check in on a friend who was seriously ill. When the man's wife said that he had 'departed,' the intellectual replied: 'When he arrives back, will you tell him that I stopped by?'"

3. THE MISER'S WILL

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A miser writes his will and names himself as the heir."

4. THE SHARP-WITTED SPECTATOR

ancient theater
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A sharp wit observes a slow runner: 'I know just what that gentleman needs.' 'What's that?' demands the sponsor of the race. 'He needs a horse, otherwise, he can't outrun the competition!'"

5. THE HOT-HEADED DOCTOR

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"Consulting a hotheaded doctor, a fellow says, 'Professor, I'm unable to lie down or stand up; I can't even sit down.' The doctor responds: 'I guess the only thing left is to hang yourself.'"

6. THE COWARDLY SAILOR

treater rehearsal
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A coward is asked which are safer, warships or merchant-ships. 'Dry-docked ships,' he answers."

7. THE JEALOUS LANDLORD

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"An envious landlord sees how happy his tenants are. So he evicts them all."

8. THE DRUNK BARKEEPER

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A drunk opens a bar, and stations a chained bear outside."

9. THE GUY WITH BAD BREATH

ancient comedian
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A guy with bad breath decides to take his own life. So he wraps his head and asphyxiates himself."

10. THE WIFE-HATER

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A wife-hater is attending the burial of his wife, who has just died. When someone asks, 'Who is it who rests in peace here?', he answers, 'Me, now that I'm rid of her!'"

11. THE LUCKLESS EUNUCH

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A luckless eunuch got himself a hernia."

12. THE HUSBAND WITH HALITOSIS

Roman woman holding a mask
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A husband with bad breath asks his wife, 'My dear, why do you hate me?' She give him an answer: 'Because you kiss me.'"

13. THE GLUTTONOUS GIFTER

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A glutton is marrying his daughter off to another glutton. Asked what he's giving her as a dowry, he responds, 'She's getting a house with windows that look out onto the bakery.'"

14. TOO TIRED TO CARE

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"Two lazy-bones are fast asleep. A thief comes in, pulls the blanket from the bed, and makes off with it. One of them is aware of what happened and says to the other, 'Get up! Go after the guy who stole our blanket!' The other responds, 'Forget it. When he comes back to take the mattress, let's grab him then.'"

15. THE FORGETFUL TEACHER

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"An incompetent teacher is asked the name of Priam's mother. At a loss, he says, 'Well, we call her Ma'am out of politeness.'"

A version of this story ran in 2014.

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