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INTRODUCTION

The greatest danger to ships at sea occur when they are near the sea coast - deceitful changes of depth in the form of reefs, shallows, shoals can destroy a ship very fast. An uncounted number of ships, often with very valuable cargo fell victim to such dangers and thousands of seamen lost their lives.

Even in modern times one of the most predominant reasons for such accidents is the inaccurate determination of the ship's position. Therefore, from the very beginning of sea travel, man tried his utmost to determine every point on the sea coast which could be helpful in searching for and recognizing the proper direction. At night, only visible luminous signs can be seen in the dark.

Faros

In ancient Egypt, priests set alight the first fires so as to show seafarers safe routes. It is probable that the first fires were lit only when a ship was due. There exists a script from the year 600 BC describing the lighthouse at Sigeum -presently Cape Inchisari in Turkey. However, the first permanent fires, the existence of which we know with all certainty is ihe fire burnt at the entrance to Piraeus - the ancient port of Athens, in the year 400 BC. The fires were burnt on specially constructed columns. Similar fires were to be found in Munychia.

The oldest known marine lighthouse is the one built by the Egyptians in the year 300 BC in the Nile delta, on the island of Faros in Alexandria - the centre of travel between the East and the West. It was a monumental construction with an amazing for that era height of over 100 m. Its construction took 17 years and was built by Sostratos from Knidos. This beautiful construction must have made a great impression on people of all ages because "Faros" is considered to be one of the "seven wonders of the world". It was destroyed around the year 1600 AD during an earthquake.

It left its mark for the future in Romanesque languages, where the description of something "coming later" in French is "phare", in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese is "faro".

A detailed description of the lighthouse was conveyed for posterity by the Arab writers and geographers: Abu Abdallach Mohammed ben Mohammed el Edrisi (1099-1164), Albufeda (1273-1331) and Ibn Battuta who in 1349 inspected the lighthouse "already in such great disrepair that it was impossible to climb up to the doors or to enter it". There is nothing left of this lighthouse now, not even the slightest sign of any ruins.

The oldest lighthouses in Western Europe were built in the 1st Century AD by the Romans in Dover, England and in Boulogne-sur-Mer. At this time the famous lighthouses of Ostia and Centum Cellae(present Civita Vecchia) also existed. Along with the fall of the Roman Empire the development of sea travel was curtailed. This also caused the closing down of lighthouses for many centuries.

Lighthouses appeared again on sea coasts towards the end of the first millennium. The lighthouse at Cordouan built probably on the order of Emperor Charlemagne is one of the oldest. On the Baltic Coast, light from the lighthouse called the volcano pot, was lit in Slavic Wolin. This was in the 10th Century AD. From the beginning of the second millennium, lighthouses more and more frequently directed sailors in their sea voyagers. Lighthouses were then built in Genoa, Falsterbo, Travemunde. Towards the end of the 17th Century seven lighthouses were in operation in the region of the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Old lighthouse

At the beginning of the 19th Century, lighthouses were to be found on all important sea routes. In the middle of this century their number was in the region of several thousand.

The most ancient source of light was wood. Only in the Middle Ages, when the art of glass making was perfected was wood replaced by wax candles (later by tallow and stearic). Coal was also used as a source of light at this time. Vegetable and mineral oil was first used as a source of light in lighthouses at the turn of the 18th Century. Soon after, coal gas and propane gas was also introduced. Already, in the middle of the 19th Century there were tests carried out on the application of electricity as a source of light in lighthouses. This last source turned out to be the most efficient. Perfected, it is used to the present day.

Even in this day of satellite navigation, just as in ancient times, lighthouses play an important role in navigation and in the assurance of safety at sea. They also are permanent monuments to history and technology and due to their unique character are tourist attractions carrying a large dose of marine romance.

There are fifteen lighthouses on the Polish coast - six of them on the West Coast. Going from West to East they are : Świnoujscie, Kikut by Wisełki, Niechorze, Kołobrzeg, Gąski, Darłowo. All these lighthouses are under the administration of the Maritime Office in Szczecin. The Lighthouse Society founded in 1996 helps the Maritime Office in their maintenance, restoration as well as in rendering them open for visitors.