The great lighthouse or Pharos of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was originally erected by Ptolemy II, during his long reign around c.280 BCE, on the rocky island of Pharos, off the coast of Alexandria. It was some 120 metres in height, topped with a magnificent beacon and a statue of Zeus, that overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. However, the representation of the Pharos in this earthly coloured mosaic above shows a different picture, with a statue of the Sun-god Helios, the giver of light, standing firmly on a stumpy base. It seems the Greek-god Zeus, may have well been replaced by a more popular, or friendly late Roman period god in Helios (Sol), for the purposes of this mosaic? In truth I cannot definitively tell you if that is correct. But what I can tell you is that, by the time of Justinian’s reign, when this mosaic was made, the lighthouse was in fact a shadow of its former self, having been destroyed by periodic earthquakes. It’s fair to say its glory days as an entrance marker to the great city of Alexandria were all but numbered.

Interestingly, the Pharos mosaic was found in one of two Byzantine churches that were accidentally uncovered by construction workers in 1952 at Qasr Libya in northern Libya. (During Justinian’s reign modern-day Qasr Libya was formerly known as Theodorias, after the Emperor’s wife, Theodora.) Today, it is housed in the Qasr Libya museum, and is part of a larger collection of some fifty mosaics that were excavated in the town during 1950’s. Importantly, the Pharos mosaic together with the collection as a whole, highlight the exemplary skill of early mosaic makers from Byzantine Africa.


Posted by Robert Horvat

Robert Horvat is a Melbourne based blogger. He believes that the world is round and that art is one of our most important treasures. He has seen far too many classic films and believes coffee runs through his veins. As a student of history, he favours ancient and medieval history. Music pretty much rules his life and inspires his moods. Favourite artists include The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Garbage and Lana Del Rey.

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