Tower of Hercules – functioning lighthouse of the Roman Empire

Tower of Hercules – a legacy of the Roman Empire

The wind often blows on the rocky northern coast of La Coruña, where the Tower of Hercules still lights the way for sailors. But this does not stop many tourists from coming to this part of Spain for the oldest lighthouse that has been there since Roman times. The 55 m high tower is located in the center of a small peninsula. Postcards and photos of the tower have long been a trademark of the city. Some even claim that it got its name from the tower.

Tower of Hercules

Tower of Hercules in mythology

The chronicles of King Alfonso X, written at the end of the XIII century, mention a myth associated with the Tower of Hercules. Performing his tenth feat, Hercules fought the bloodthirsty giant Herion for three days. After defeating him, the hero built a huge tower himself and brought a few people from a neighboring village to establish a new settlement.

In recent centuries, this legend has been used especially often, not only by historians, but also by authors of popular literature. Therefore, most tourists and even Spaniards believe that this is how the Tower of Hercules appeared.

History of the Tower

The oldest mentions of the lighthouse tower can be found in the annals of the conquest of Spain. At that time these lands belonged to the kingdom of Brigantia, ruled by King Breogan. He ordered the construction of the tallest tower, which was named after him. From its top in good weather you could see foreign lands (the shores of what is now Ireland). The distance between this part of Spain and Ireland is 900 km. After that, the most courageous navigators went to explore the distant shores and founded a new state there.

Scientists believe that the construction of the Tower of Hercules was begun in the II century BC in the state of Galicia. In the 1st century A.D. the country was conquered by a Roman emperor to control an important port at the crossroads of trade routes. Ptolemy himself mentioned the rich Galicia in his works, as well as a huge tower. Throughout its history it was called by different names, but it was always the same structure.

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Because the rocky coastline was difficult to navigate, several lighthouses were placed along the entire coastline to help sailors. At the same time, the ancient tower was improved. The architect Caius Servius Lupo dedicated it to the god Mars, whose name can still be seen on its base.

At the beginning of the 5th century, the Romans left Galicia and it became independent. The very high lighthouse continued to amaze poets and writers. For example, it was mentioned by Paul Orosius in his essay of 415. Over time, the tower was no longer used as a lighthouse and was provided with additional fortifications. It became a fortification for the period of Saxon and Arab attacks. After them, the fertile land, also rich in minerals, was attacked by the Vikings and Normans. The last significant battle was the attack of Olaf Haraldson – the future King of Norway. Gradually the city and the lighthouse itself fell into decay.

Archaeological excavations in 1995 uncovered the remains of ancient Roman and medieval buildings at the base of the tower, and the foundations of a defensive wall that has not survived to this day.

Tower of Hercules in new times

As a result of the battles of the seventeenth century, the lighthouse fell into disrepair and began to deteriorate. To restore the beautiful tower, the heir of the Duke of Lerma ordered Amaro Antune to reconstruct it. Funds for the construction were levied in the form of a tax on each arriving ship. A new wooden staircase appeared inside the tower and two small signal towers at the top.

Over the next centuries, the famous tower stirred the minds of scholars and architects. Many devoted years of their lives to studying its history and restoring its former appearance. As a result, it acquired the look that appears to tourists today. Inside there was a stone staircase instead of the wooden one. The outer walls were tiled, and the semicircular roof was replaced by an additional floor.

At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, the fixed coal lamp was replaced by a rotating oil lamp. Fifty-five years later, a platform was built around the lighthouse. During the same period, the lighthouse was used to train future lighthouse keepers. In 1927 electricity was introduced inside.

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Tower architecture

In ancient times, the Tower of Hercules had the shape of a prism with a quadrangular base. There were two doors leading to the inside. On the whole height there were several asymmetric windows. The spiral staircase was attached to the outer wall. The height of the first two floors was 9.6 m, and the ceiling of the third floor was 14.3 m. On the plan of each floor you can see 4 square rooms.

In 1791 there was a big reconstruction of the tower. There was a fourth floor, which was more than 21 m high. Inside there was only one octagonal room. The tower is protected by strong walls. The thickness of the main granite layer is 215 cm. On the outside there is an additional 60 cm thick finish. The visible strips on the facade are a decoration in memory of the exterior staircase of former times.

Today the lighthouse tower of Hercules is under UNESCO protection. The tower itself is only one element of the complex. Also present in it:

  • A low ancient Roman structure;
  • a rock painting;
  • a sculpture park;
  • Muslim cemetery.

At the top of the tower is an observation deck with an amazing view of the coast and the wind rose.

How to get there?

The town where the Tower of Hercules is located is called La Coruña. You can get to the landmark itself by taking bus routes 3 or 5. Also from the city center to this attraction runs a tourist streetcar. You can also come here by your own car. There is a convenient parking lot near the tower.

Tower of Hercules – the lighthouse of the Roman Empire

Tower of Hercules is the only lighthouse of the Roman Empire, which since its foundation until today has served its original purpose: to help sailors navigate.

The lighthouse was supposedly built by the Romans at the end of the 1st or beginning of the 2nd century A.D. on a promontory located in the northwestern part of modern Spain, 2.5 kilometers from the center of La Coruña. The Romans themselves sometimes called this place “Finisterra”, which can be translated as “the end of the earth”. This is not far from the truth, as only the northeastern Atlantic Ocean extends further.

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Tower of Hercules

Such places have an amazing property. There are many of them on our planet. On the one hand, there’s nothing amazing, just the land ended and the ocean began. But the feeling that you are literally on the edge of the earth, fills the blood with adrenaline, and the body with lightness and euphoria. Be sure to read about the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and Cape Rock in Portugal. These are the places that can be safely called “the ends of the earth.

The site chosen for the Tower of Hercules was a rocky hill known as Punta Eiras. It rises 57 meters above the waters of the Atlantic. A lighthouse at this location was necessary for maritime navigation along the westernmost coast of the Roman Empire.

General Description

This unique ancient construction is square and each side is 11.75 meters long. The height of the lighthouse is 55 meters, but only slightly more than 34 of these are from the Roman Empire. The remaining 21 meters is an additional reconstruction carried out in 1789. It is noteworthy that the base of the structure is a platform 32.4 meters wide, built only at the beginning of the 19th century.

From the outside, the Tower of Hercules has a prismatic structure topped by an octagonal towering section with triangular elements in the corners. In this way, the entire lighthouse has a finished form, smoothing out the square layout.

Tower of Hercules

The four outer facades are characterized by a simple construction and present a homogeneous structure that is repeated on all sides with slight variations in the arrangement of the spans.

One of the most characteristic features of the lighthouse is the helicoidal impost on the outer walls. It runs from the base to the top of the prismatic section and creates an ascending ramp, which in Roman times provided access to the Tower. Traces of this ramp are preserved on the walls of the building and were found when the restoration began in 1789 under the direction of the military engineer Justacchio Giannini.

Tower of Hercules

What does Hercules have to do with it?

Until the 20th century, the tower itself was known as “Farum Brigantia,” from the name of the ancient state of Brigantia, which was located here. But at the end of the 13th century the tale of Hercules (better known to us as Hercules) appears in the records of King Alfonso the tenth. Hercules’ tenth feat was a three-day battle with a mighty giant named Geryon. After Hercules was victorious, he built this tower here and founded a settlement nearby.

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This legend was actively cultivated in Spain throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, the lighthouse was named “Tower of Hercules,” partly because some Spanish historians adhered to this version. In addition, the name sounds rather pompous and brings additional income to the tourist industry.

Evening illumination of the Tower of Hercules

Evening illumination of the Tower of Hercules

There is another legend about the Tower’s origin.

According to it, King Breogan, the founding father of the Galician Celtic nation, built a tall tower from which he could see the distant green shores. Seeing them, his sons went north and discovered Ireland. According to legend, the descendants of Breogan settled in Ireland and became the Celtic ancestors of the current Irish people.

Incidentally, 350 meters from the Tower of Hercules is a large statue of King Breogan.

Tower of Hercules and the statue of King Breogan

The statue of King Breogan and the Tower of Hercules

Archaeological research

The earliest mention of the lighthouse dates back to 415-417 A.D. The Tower of Hercules retained the name of its architect, Cayo Sevio Lupo, which was immortalized in a commemorative plaque on the building. It also stated that the lighthouse was dedicated to the God Mars Augusto.

The first archaeological excavations were undertaken in the early nineties as a result of a project to restore the Tower and the surrounding area. The aim of the project was to restore the lighthouse in time for the bicentenary of the reconstruction carried out by Justacchio Giannini.

In 1991 excavations were carried out under the stone platform of the Tower. In June 1992, the work continued under the direction of archaeologist Luis Caballero Zveroda, member of the restoration project of the Tower and José M. Bello Diguez of the Archaeological Museum of Castillo de San Antón.

Excavations at Tower of Hercules

Excavations at the Tower of Hercules

The interior base of the Roman lighthouse has been preserved to this day. The tower is arranged on three levels, different in height: 9.20 m, 9.60 m and 14.35 m, respectively. Each floor is a structure with four independent rectangular chambers 2.70 m long.

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The partitions are 1.5 m thick, which corresponds to the width of the original walls of the Tower’s perimeter. Today these walls are thicker, since the original structure was covered with a masonry shell between 1788 and 1790, and the Roman structure was connected to this shell with perfectly fitted joints. As a result, the original one and a half meter walls are now between 2.10 and 2.15 meters thick.

Inside the Tower of Hercules

Inside the Tower of Hercules

Inside the Tower of Hercules

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the amount of maritime traffic here decreased significantly and the Tower began to lose its importance. Nature began to undermine the building, and people gradually pulled it apart brick by brick for their own needs.

It is human nature to pull everything that “lies bad” into the house. Even the legendary Colosseum in Rome, in the era of its oblivion was almost pulled apart at home by local residents.

When the Tower was again needed as a lighthouse, it had to significantly rebuild its interior. A staircase was built to connect the base of the tower with its upper part, where a strong lantern was installed. The lighting system used after the restoration of the lighthouse also underwent modernization. For this purpose, a man was sent to London to gather information on the possibility of creating a lighthouse based on a rotating lantern powered by oil. By the end of 1799, a new lighting system arrived at the lighthouse. But its cost was so high that donations even had to be collected to pay for it.

Tower of Hercules

The Tower of Hercules today

Now the lighthouse is a very interesting landmark in Spain, where you can literally touch history.

How to get there

By car to the parking lot next to the lighthouse. By city bus: 3, 3A, 5. Use the tourist streetcar that runs along the Paseo Maritimo promenade. By bicycle: bike path along the Paseo Maritimo promenade.

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