Lighthouses are, for many, symbols of stability and security, beacons of hope, and, also, extensions of our landscapes. They are crucial elements of maritime history and serve both historical value and structural beauty by their presence. In Greece, as modern monuments, they are of the highest importance. Greece’s Lighthouse network is one of the largest and most organized, worldwide.
The network of lighthouses in Greece extends to a length of 18,400 km and, despite the modernization of navigation means (GPS, DGPS, etc.), it remains a necessary shipping aid. They exist to remind us of the romance of cruising and sailing the seas. With all of the trials and tribulations that have come as well at sea, with the many trades, wars, and courageous excursions before us, they stand in remembrance. One might imagine the joy of seeing the spotlight from the sea for the first time and pulling into a safe port. Or the joy of the seaman returning home from long journeys.
Approximately 120 lighthouses have been documented in Greece to be over two centuries old. In antiquity, these lighthouses functioned more as markers for entrances to port rather than a warning signal of today’s lighthouses. Surrendered to the wear and tear of time and abandonment, these modern monuments attest to Greece’s powerful and prominent position in maritime history.
In 1940 there were 206 stone lighthouses and after the end of the World Wars, only 19 remained in operation. The biggest damage to the Greek lighthouse network, consisting of 1,308 lighthouses, was caused during World War II, specifically during the German troops’ withdrawal from Greece. About 80 lighthouses were rebuilt, beginning in 1945 and extending until the mid-1950s.
With the decrease of functioning lighthouses, so too have the lighthouse keepers, with about 70 still working today. Lighthouses were not only sources of light but houses for their keepers and a sufficient supply of oil. Many of these lighthouses today are open to the public to visit, especially on August 19th which is International Lighthouse Day.
The Lighthouse of Chania, Crete at the port of Chania, is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, constructed in the second half of 16th century the Venetians.
One notable lighthouse is located at the tip of Vourkari Port in Kea island, the first island of the Cyclades after leaving Athens and a favorite stop for boats headed south. The Lighthouse Aghios Nikolaos (the Patron Saint of the Sea), was built in 1831 and stands 8 Meters tall with a focal plane of 32 Meters. It is the first site one notices when entering Kea island by sea and what an impression it makes especially in the dusky hours. Next to this landmark is the church of the same Saint. This lighthouse has become part of the island’s charm and distinctive traits. As you enter the port in Kea by sea, the large bay engulfs you like a warm hug and welcome.
Lighthouses are reference points for the seafarers and in Greece, protected by law for the Antiquities and Cultural Heritage as well as under the Architectural Heritage of Europe protection. May we enjoy their beauty and heritage and keep an eye always peeled while exploring the Greek seas.
*Featured lighthouse photos by Der Mits Nature Photography