9 of the World's Most Notable Lighthouses

The Tower of Hercules with bright blue water behind it.
The Tower of Hercules in Spain was built by the ancient Romans in the first century CE.

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Built to safely guide ships to harbor, lighthouses tell the story of technologies and cultures throughout the millennia. Structures like Thomas Point Shoal Light Station and Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse show the popularity of screw-pile lighthouse design in mid-19th century American architecture. The nearly 2,000-year-old Tower of Hercules in Spain is shrouded in myth and stands today as a testament to ancient Roman craftsmanship. Modern lighthouses, like the 436-foot-tall Jeddah Light in Saudi Arabia, reveal the remarkable potential of human ingenuity.

From the towers of our ancient past to the latest modern designs, here are nine of the world’s most notable lighthouses.

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The Tourlitis Lighthouse

The Tourlitis Lighthouse in Andros, Greece on a bright blue day

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Constructed upon a rocky, columnlike islet in Andros, Greece, the Tourlitis Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in all of Europe to be built on a rock at sea. The structure was first used in 1897 and is significant for being the first “automatic” lighthouse in Greece, making it more reliable than most at the time. In 1943, the Tourlitis Lighthouse was destroyed during World War II. However, it was fully reconstructed nearly 50 years later in 1994 and has been in operation ever since.

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Thomas Point Shoal Light

Thomas Point Shoal Light juts out of a tiny islet in the Chesapeake Bay

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Thomas Point Shoal Light in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay is what’s known as a screw-pile lighthouse, wherein the structure sits on cast-iron beams screwed into the bottom of the sea below. Built in 1873 with funding from the United States Congress, the station is not a towerlike structure typical of lighthouses but a 49-foot-tall hexagonal, wooden cottage. Surprisingly, the Thomas Point Shoal Light was a manually operated lighthouse until 1986, when it finally became automated. In 1999, the station received National Historic Landmark status.

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Jeddah Light

Jeddah Light with construction cranes at its base on a clear day

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Jeddah Light—also known as Jeddah Port Control Tower—is a steel and concrete lighthouse located in Saudi Arabia. At a height of 436 feet, it's the tallest lighthouse in operational use worldwide. Built in 1990, the lighthouse features a spherical observation building with an attached balcony on top of a tower. The modern lighthouse looks out from the Jeddah Seaport and emits three white flashes once every 20 seconds.

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Kõpu Lighthouse

Looking up towards the Kõpu Lighthouse in Estonia on a clear day

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Standing nearly 220 feet above sea level on the island of Hiiumaa in Estonia is the centuries-old Kõpu Lighthouse. Completed in 1531, the limestone and granite structure itself stands at a height of 124 and features a square-shaped tower with four buttresses and a balcony on top. The Kõpu Lighthouse used a number of different lighting methods over the centuries, including a kerosene system purchased at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. In 2020, the lighthouse was equipped with one of the most powerful LED systems in the world.

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Tower of Hercules

The Tower of Hercules rises above the harbor in Coruña, Spain

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Located on a peninsula in Coruña in Galicia, Spain, the Tower of Hercules stands today as the oldest lighthouse known in the world. Originally constructed in the late first century CE, the lighthouse sits on a 187-foot-tall rock and was built by the ancient Romans to the height of 111 feet. In the late 18th century, the tower was renovated and saw a further 69 feet added to its height. Through the centuries, a number of legends grew around the lighthouse. One such myth has it that Hercules buried the skull of his slain enemy and demanded that a city be built upon the site, giving the tower its Herculean name.

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Baishamen Lighthouse

Baishamen Lighthouse in China surrounded by greenery at its base

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Perched on the tiny Haidian Island in the Hainan province of China, the Baishamen Lighthouse features a four-story, hexagonal base that rises into a triangular, prism-shaped tower. First lit in the year 2000, the white structure stands 236 feet tall and rises a total of 256 feet above water level—making it the sixth tallest lighthouse in the world. Baishamen Lighthouse emits a white flash of light every six seconds, aiding ships passing through the Qiongzhou Strait.

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Strombolicchio Lighthouse

Strombolicchio Lighthouse sits atop a giant sea stack in the Aeolian Islands of Italy

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A mile from the island of Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands of Italy sits a giant sea stack with the 26-foot-tall Strombolicchio Lighthouse atop it. Built in 1925, the white stone tower rises one story up from the keeper’s house at its base and features a balcony with a light that flashes in increments of 15 seconds. Today, the lighthouse is entirely automated and contains a modern solar-powered lighting system.

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Dyrhólaey Lighthouse

Dyrhólaey Lighthouse on the southern coast of Iceland at dusk

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Located along the southern coast of Iceland, the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse was built in 1927. The white concrete tower stands 43 feet tall and has a red metallic light beacon on top of it. A striking feature of the area, apart from the structure itself, is the large natural archway in the rocky cliff upon which the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse is built.

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Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse

The red Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse sits in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on a partly cloudy day

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The aptly named Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse was originally situated on top of the Seven Foot Knoll at the mouth of the Patapsco River in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Constructed in 1856, the structure is the oldest screw-pile lighthouse in Maryland and can be found today on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, serving as a museum exhibit. The Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse consists of an iron gallery deck upon which a circular house rests, with a small light tower built on top.