Some of the world's most essential buildings are lighthouses. They have been used to direct ships to harbors around the world and warn ships at sea about unsafe weather conditions such as fog or approaching storms for many centuries. Over the past century, light stations have been used for relaying radio and telegraph messages and, when necessary, for helping to coordinate search and rescue missions at sea.
Lighthouses and light stations are also important tourist attractions and relics from previous eras. Many were built over the past several centuries by the former European colonial powers. Others were built at a time when new technologies, such as the wireless radio and telegraphs, were first invented and put to good use.
In this article, you'll discover ten of the most famous (and maybe not so famous) lighthouses from around the world and a little history and background information behind them. You probably already know about some of these lighthouses, but others may be new to you.
So please, sit back and enjoy!
10 of the Most Amazing Lighthouses in the World
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse/Outer Banks Lighthouses
- Kołobrzeg (Kolberg) Lighthouse
- Sumiyoshi Lighthouse
- San Juan del Salvamento Lighthouse
- Amédée Lighthouse
- Cikoneng Lighthouse
- Sambro Island Lighthouse
- Cape Race Lighthouse
- Slettnes Lighthouse
- Cape Guardafui Lighthouse
Continue scrolling for more details about each of these incredible sites!
1. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse/Outer Banks Lighthouses
Some of the most famous lighthouses in the USA are located in the Outer Banks island chain located off the coast of North Carolina. The most famous of all these - and perhaps one of the most famous lighthouses in the world - is the candy-striped Cape Hatteras lighthouse located at Cape Hatteras.
There are a number of lighthouses that dot the Outer Banks, which include the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, the black-and-white striped Bodie Island lighthouse, the Ocracoke lighthouse, the brick Currituck lighthouse, the Cape Lookout lighthouse, and the Oak Island lighthouse. Many of these lighthouses have been decommissioned, and a few others have been demolished altogether.
The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the United States, and an icon of America's East Coast. The current lighthouse was built in 1870 and replaces an earlier one built in 1803. In 1999-2000, the lighthouse was moved 2,870 ft. (870 m) inland due to an eroding shoreline.
During World War II, the Cape Hattteras lighthouse became an vital element to national defense when German submarines, or U-Boats, patrolled the waters off the Outer Banks and sank Allied merchant and navy ships, turning the area into a shooting gallery known as the "Torpedo Junction". During the War, Coast Guard lookouts used the lighthouse to watch for U-Boats which surfaced at night.
2. Kołobrzeg (Kolberg) Lighthouse
One of Poland's famous Baltic Coast lighthouses is the Kołobrzeg lighthouse, which is located in the city of Kołobrzeg.
The city of Kołobrzeg is a prime spot for signalling ships at sea due to its proximity to the Baltic Sea. According to some accounts, signal lights were used at the mouth of the Parsęta River (a Baltic tributary) in Kołobrzeg as far back as 1666!
The original Kołobrzeg lighthouse was built by the Germans in 1899 when the Polish coastline was part of Germany and the city was known as Kolberg. In 1909, another lighthouse was built at the site of the current lighthouse, which is also a 19th-century Prussian fortress!
At the end of World War II, most of the city of Kołobrzeg was levelled during fighting between German and Soviet forces as the German soldiers occupying the city attempted to hold out against the Red Army onslaught. The lighthouse was also destroyed, but it was rebuilt in 1948 by the Communist authorities.
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The Kołobrzeg lighthouse is unusual in that it has a round, double-columned construction and is built on top of the old Prussian fortress. Also, the lighthouse's lantern is raised on a series of eight columns instead of being attached to the floor as is the case in most other lighthouses.
3. Sumiyoshi Lighthouse
The Sumiyoshi lighthouse in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, Japan, is Japan's oldest lighthouse. Built during the end of the Kamakura period (1185-1333 AD), the Sumiyoshi lighthouse was one of a number of wooden lighthouses built in ancient Japan. It built as an offering and a votive light to the guardian deity of the nearby Sumiyoshi Shrine. It has stood watch over the ancient river port of Funa-machi and the Suimon River for many centuries.
Unlike most other lighthouses, the Sumiyoshi lighthouse is an inland lighthouse that acted as a votive and a beacon for ships entering the river port. It was also powered by oil from the rapeseed flower rather than other fuels of the time such as paraffin oil or petroleum!
In 1950, the original Sumiyoshi lighthouse was destroyed by Typhoon Jane but was rebuilt using stone, which gives it a greater ability to withstand the elements.
4. San Juan del Salvamento Lighthouse
One of the great works of literature about a lighthouse is Jules Verne's 1905 novel Le Phare au Bout du Monde, or "The Lighthouse at the End of the World". The lighthouse in this novel is the San Juan del Salvamento lighthouse, which is located on Isla de los Estados, or Staten Island, off the southernmost Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego in the South Atlantic near Cape Horn.
The original San Juan del Salvamento lighthouse was built in 1884 and guided ships to the island's only safe cove for ships that wasn't battered by high waves or gigantic rocks jutting out of the sea. During the few years when there was a prison located on the island (1899-1902), the lighthouse also guided in ships bringing prisoners to their remote and lonely exile.
Unfortunately, the lighthouse was closed in 1902 with the prison (which was deemed unsuitable for habitation due to the extreme wind and weather conditions) and was eventually demolished. However, in 1998, a group of French Jules Verne enthusiasts working along with Argentine Navy reconstructed the Light at the End of the World. This lighthouse is a major tourist attraction on the island...for those who dare to make the ocean crossing by boat on the extremely ferocious waves, that is!
5. Amédée Lighthouse
One of the most famous lighthouses in the South Pacific is the Amédée lighthouse, or le Phare Amédée in French. This lighthouse is located on Amédée Island, near the city of Nouméa on the island of New Caledonia.
The Amédée lighthouse was built in 1862 in Paris and transported to New Caledonia via Le Havre. After it was erected in 1865, the Amédée lighthouse lit the way for ships bringing French convicts to the port at Fort-de-France (now Nouméa). It fulfilled this role until 1897, when the French government stopped using the island as a penal colony.
Today the Amédée lighthouse is New Caledonia's most famous tourist attraction and is said to be one of the tallest iron structures in the world. To this very day, it still guides ships safely to Nouméa!
6. Cikoneng Lighthouse
Another of the world's tallest lighthouses is Indonesia's Cikoneng lighthouse, which is located on Tanjung Cikoneng in Banten province, west Java. Standing at 60 meters (190 ft) tall, it was a very tall lighthouse for its time. It is officially Indonesia's second oldest lighthouse.
The original Cikoneng lighthouse was built in 1806 by the Dutch colonial government in Indonesia. When the Krakatoa volcano erupted in 1883, the original Cikoneng lighthouse was completely annihilated by the tsunami waves triggered by the massive volcanic eruption, which were at least 30 meters (100 ft) high! The current Cikoneng lighthouse was built two years later.
Today, the Cikoneng lighthouse is one of a small number of Indonesian lighthouses that offer easy access to visitors. However, across the Sunda Strait from the Cikoneng lighthouse is the still-active Krakatoa volcano, which is rapidly reemerging from the ocean after it completely destroyed itself that day in 1883.
7. Sambro Island Lighthouse
Canada's oldest lighthouse—as well as the oldest continually operating lighthouse in North America—is the Sambro Island lighthouse located at the entrance of Halifax Harbour near the town of Sambro in Halifax municipality, Nova Scotia, Canada.
For over 200 years, the Sambro Island lighthouse has beaconed ships into Halifax Harbour. It also has a massive amount of history attached to it. During the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812, American raiders fought some bloody naval battles with British warships and even captured a few off Sambro Island Light. In 1895, the Canadian-American adventurer Joshua Slocum set off on his solo sea journey around the world from Sambro Island. During both World Wars, German U-boats torpedoed a number of Allied merchant and naval vessels near the light station.
The Sambro Island lighthouse was built in 1758-59 during the Seven Year's War between Britain and France. From the late 1700s well into the 1870s, cannons were used as a foghorn to warn ships at sea of dense fog!
In 1906, the lighthouse was expanded by two stories and red and white stripes were added two years later to make the lighthouse visible against blowing snow.
In 1988, the Sambro Island lighthouse was fully automated, and Sambro Island is now uninhabited. However, Sambro Island Light does receive occasional tourists who want to explore over 250 years of history at the site!
8. Cape Race Lighthouse
Another famous lighthouse in Canada is the Cape Race Lighthouse, which is located on the southeastern tip of Newfoundland.
The Cape Race Light Station has been in existence since 1856 and has been a guiding light for ships from Europe approaching the Newfoundland coastline ever since. After all, Cape Race was the first land point they reached in North America. The original Cape Race lighthouse was built in 1856 but was replaced by the current lighthouse in 1907. That original checkered lighthouse can now be found in front of the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.
The Cape Race Marconi Station, which was located at the light station site, is most famous for receiving the Titanic SOS message via wireless radio on that fateful day in April 1912. Throughout the next few hours, Cape Race sent numerous radio messages to any vessels that could race to the site of the Titanic and help save survivors and relayed news to the Canadian and US mainlands.
Up to the present day, Cape Race has been an important communications center. The Cape Race Telegraph Station was an important telegraph and, later, wireless center. It was the main telegraph link between St. Johns and New York City, and when the first trans-Atlantic cables were laid in the 1860s, it became an important communications link between North America and Europe when the lines were laid from Newfoundland to Ireland.
In 1904, the relatively new technology of wireless radio was utilized by Cape Race when the Cape Race Marconi Station was built. This station communicated with offshore ships via wireless radio until 1965, when it was retired. Today a replica of the station exists as a museum for visitors to the Cape Race Light Station.
The Cape Race Light Station still guides ships along the Newfoundland coast to this very day and still has an important role to play in trans-Atlantic navigation. Also, the public can now learn more about the fascinating history behind this lighthouse, as well as the history of the telegraph and wireless communication itself.
9. Slettnes Lighthouse
The world's northernmost lighthouse is the Slettnes lighthouse, which is located in the Slettnes Nature Reserve near the village of Gamvik in Finnmark country, Norway. The lighthouse is located on the Arctic Ocean (Barents Sea) near the borders of both Finland and Russia.
The first lighthouse was built in 1905 but was destroyed by retreating German forces along with the rest of light station per Hitler's Scorched Earth policy in 1944 when Soviet forces went on the offensive against the Nazis in northeast Norway.
Slettnes Lighthouse was rebuilt after the war and went back into operation in 1948. To this day it is still manned and active, guiding ships through the Arctic waters.
Surrounding the lighthouse is the Slettnes Nature Reserve and bird observatory, where visitors can see the area's many birds and take in the beautiful scenery around the lighthouse!
10. Cape Guardafui Lighthouse
In Somalia, there are many old lighthouses that were used to direct ships into Somalia's many port cities. In the midst of the wars and anarchy that have ravaged the nation since 1991, the majority of these lighthouses (excluding the lighthouses of the autonomous republic of Somaliland, most of which are operational at the time of this writing) are now abandoned.
One of the most noteworthy is the Ra's Asir—or Cape Guardafui lighthouse. This lighthouse is located at the extreme tip of the Horn of Africa in the autonomous region of Puntland. This point is Africa's most easterly point and is also the point where the Gulf of Aden meets the Indian Ocean. The Cape Guardafui lighthouse was built in the early 20th century by the Italian authorities.
In May 1941, the capture of this lighthouse and the nearby village of Tuhom from the Italians was the objective of a British commando raid (conducted with assistance from the Royal Indian Navy) during their early days in World War II when British forces were trying to capture the area from the Italians to facilitate safe passage through the Gulf. The mission was a success for the British Commandos, who had just been formed less than a year earlier.
This lighthouse was featured on a number of postage stamps from Italian Somaliland issued during 1932–34.
The Cape Guardafui lighthouse remained in operation throughout the 20th century but is now abandoned.
Lighthouses are structures that have been around in some form or another for many millennia. As times and technologies change, lighthouses will most certainly adapt with them. Also, most of the lighthouses above will most certainly be around for visitors to enjoy for many more years to come....just as long as there is interest in them. They will be here to share their history, survive the elements, and continue their primary function: To guide ships to safe passage and docking.
Thank you for your visit to this article. Hopefully you've enjoyed this tour of some of the famous lighthouses from around the world!