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For each sailor, “lighthouse” means hope, optimism and security for his route. For the rest of the world is a matter nilly, touching always some subtle strings of our soul. It is no coincidence that the beacons themselves is a topic that attracts all kinds of art, not just painting and literature, poetry and film, because behind the imposing stone walls, eroded from the saltiness, hide power, mystery, solitude, adventure and simultaneously immense serenity. The first lighthouses all over the world appeared about 2000 years ago. It was the Colossus of Rhodes in Greece and the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt.
The lighthouses’ network of the country is considered the largest and most organized in the world. This consists of 1309 beacons, lights and light buoys of which 57 are supervised, while 6 are permanently manned.
The exact construction date of the first Greek lighthouse is not known. Oral tradition says that the first lighthouse was built in 1827, on Aegina, the capital of the newly appointed Greek state by Kapodistrias. In 1831 two more lamps placed at ports of Spetses and Kea, respectively, in 1934 the lighthouse in Gaidouronisi of Syros was built, which is the tallest in the Greek network with a height of about 29 meters, followed by the construction of many others. So in 1863 the lighthouse network in Greece numbered 29 lighthouses and lights, while next year with the liberation of the Ionian islands 15 others were added. The latest were built as early as 1822 by Great Britain which occupied the Ionian Islands. By 1887, chronology station on the history of Greek lighthouses, another 25 lighthouses and lights (total 49) were added, among them two at Magnesia (one in Volos and the other in Trikeri isle), former Turkish territory, acquired with the annexation of Thessaly 1881. In 1887 Trikoupis voted a law “establishing a fund beacons” that will finally solve all the problems by then and will give new impetus to their development. After the Balkan wars of 1912-13 another 35 lighthouses and lamps were added, with the incorporation of the “new lands” in Greek State and the total rose to 193, manufactured by the French on behalf of the Ottoman Empire.
Important role in the development and operation of the lighthouse network played Stylianos Lykoudis, who was born in Syros in 1878 and served in the lighthouse network for more than 50 years, until his retirement in 1939. So during the 25 years 1913-1936 with the reorganization of the Lighthouse Service under the authority and guidance of Stylianos Lykoudis were added 191 other flares, number of great importance to the completion of the lighthouse network. During the Second World War, the beacons suffered significant damage, since they were easy and obvious target both from air and during naval raids. After the end of the Second World War only 28 lighthouses and lights out of the 400, which were in operation in the Greek seas found to operate.
In 1945 a systematic effort began to repair the damages, and in 1946 there were already 374 lighthouses, lights and light buoys.
The Lighthouse network now has 120 traditional lighthouses aged about 2 centuries. Only 20 are in good condition and other 30 in medium condition. In the others signs of wear are visible with naked eye. In 1998, the Lighthouse Department of the Navy General Staff, which owns the responsibility for managing the network, prepared a comprehensive program of restoration and maintenance of all buildings and promoted the project in the Second Community Support Framework. However, the plan had not been funded, so the Ministry of Culture and the Curators of Contemporary Monuments undertook to evaluate one by one all the lighthouses. The inspectors visited 20, which they considered as historical monuments to be preserved. The Lighthouse Service with its available funds has the ability to repair 3 to 4 towers annually. At this rate, the completion of the project extends in 40 years. Nevertheless, the third Community Support Framework revived the hopes of the people involved in the preservation of these monuments. Their persistence was paid off with the approval of funds -approximately EUR 4.5 million - to develop a pilot program of renovation and restoration of the network. With these funds the Departments of the Navy can repair about 40 lighthouses and yet in an extremely short period of time because they have knowledge, skilled engineers and architects.
The importance of the lighthouses in Greece today
The utility of the lighthouses in Greece becomes obvious if we take into account: a) the large coastal development in our country (mainland & island = 18.400 km), b) the number of islands, islets and rocks are 9835, c) the utility of flares that despite the modernization of navigation instruments, remain important navigational aids, as shown by the continuous submission of requests for the installation of new torches and light buoys and for connection with the existing network.
The latest news for Greek lighthouses is that three stone built lighthouses in Paxos and Antipaxos (March2012) were identified as monuments after a unanimous decision of the Central Council of Modern Monuments. These lighthouses are remarkable architectural structures and contributed for long to the development and security of navigation.