Although lighthouses don't play as an important role in maritime safety anymore, they are still a part of our past. They helped even the smallest of boats swim safely ashore for centuries all over the world. Now they offer pretty photo-ops when you go to the beach. There is a wealth of history behind some of the more obscure lighthouses. They tell us the story of what it was like in a seafarer's life when the primary mode of transportation was by boat or ship. Many of them have to be protected to preserve and honor our past relationship with these helpful structures, including Spain's Tower of Hercules. Read on to find out why.
The Tower of Hercules Is The Oldest Working Lighthouse In The World
Unlike other Roman lighthouses, which have receded into ruin, like Dover's Roman Lighthouse, Hercules' Tower still stands in mint condition today. Since the 1st century A.D., the Roman-built lighthouse has been ushering boats and ships into the entrance of Spain's northwest, La Coruña harbor, and continues to do so.
Sitting at 185 feet tall, the tower is thought to have been built during the reign of Trajan. At the time of its construction, the Roman Empire's occupation reached the city of Galicia. They thought it was the furthest point of the world. The tower sits on a rocky hill, called Punta Eiras, between Punta Herminia and Punta del Orzán. More than half of the building is original Roman masonry. The other half was restored by the architect Eustaquio Giannini in the 18th century.
The tower has gone through a lot of changes in terms of how it helps navigate. During its earliest duties, the tower must have used some of the most antiquated technologies that were then the newest. Now, it uses the highest technologies of the day while still standing as one of the most important historical and cultural structures in human history. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this very reason in 2009.
There are other things to see on the site as well. There is the little Roman building next to the tower, a sculpture park, the Monte dos Bicos rock carvings, which date back to the Iron Age, and a Muslim cemetery.
The Romans probably thought it was fitting to name the tower after the god of strength and protection. There were many shipwrecks in the area, earning it the name Costa da Morte- the Coast of Death. The tower more than likely got its name from the myth that Hercules himself had slain the giant tyrant Geryon.
In his tenth labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to journey to the end of the world and bring him back the giant's cattle. Orthus, the two-headed brother of Cerberus, guarded the red cattle near the modern boundary between Europe and Libya. After a bloody battle, Hercules slew the giant and loaded up the cattle. On the way back, one of the bulls escaped and swam to land- the native word for "bull" was "italus," so I bet you can figure out where he landed!
Whichever the story is, the tower is herculean. Don't worry; you won't fall off the face of the Earth if you travel there. You'll just witness some breathtaking views and feel like a god on the tallest tower.