The 5 Tallest Lighthouses in the World

Phare de Gatteville on the backdrop of its surrounding choppy seas

photography by: Elizabeth-Jeanne/ Wikimedia Commons

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Since the advent of maritime vessels, lighthouses played a major role in guaranteeing the safety and well-being of both seamen and equipment. Over time, some towers far exceeded their initial function as a navigational facility, becoming a popular monument after their decommission. With exceedingly slender proportions, lighthouses always seem taller than their actual height, as even the tallest amongst those structures do not surpass the 100 meters threshold. Nevertheless, what they lack in sheer height, some of them make up for in interesting stories to tell.

Take note that all five lighthouses in the following list are defined as traditional lighthouses, and therefore, are in fact surpassed by a series of other structures which don’t fully qualify as lighthouses in the full sense of the word.


#5 Mulantou Lighthouse – Hainan, China

Perching atop a dramatic promontory at the eastern entrance of Qiongzhou Strait, between the island of Hainan and Mainland China, Mulantou Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the country, as well as the fifth-tallest in the world. Popularly known as the Hainan Head-light, the structure was built in 1995 at the southern side of the strait to provide guidance for the ever-growing traffic of commercial vessels.

 

The 72-meter-tall lighthouse (237 feet) generates an 88-meter-high focal plane (289 feet), while emitting a pair of white light beams every 15 seconds. Featuring a white circular shape with occasional red stripes, the facility is reminiscent of an air-traffic control tower rather than a typical lighthouse, as its ring-shaped upper part and base look as if they were modeled after an aerodrome controller.

The Mulantou Lighthouse, sitting atop a promontory

photography by: 大蛋/ Wikimedia Commons


#4 Lesnoy Mole Rear Range Light - Saint Petersburg, Russia

In contrary to its somewhat famed image as Russia’s Paris, Saint Petersburg is also home to several industrial districts, where the scenery is as far away as possible from the iconic palaces we all associate with the city. Towering over a docking yard of Saint Petersburg’s main commercial port, at the shores of the Gulf of Finland, Lesnoy Mole Rear Range Light guides ships across the narrow water passageways of the Yekateringofskiy Basin.

 

Unlike a typical lighthouse which features a single structure, Lesnoy Mole is a range light, and as such, consists of 3 separates towers, the tallest of which is 73 meter tall (239 feet), making it not only the tallest lighthouse in Russia, but also the tallest leading lights in the entire world. Built in 1986, the cylindrical lighthouse is painted with horizontal red and white stripes, whilst its red beacon flickers every 4 seconds.

Saint Petersburg's Lesnoy Mole Range Light, towering over the city's commercial harbor

photography by: Larry Myhre/ Wikimedia Commons


#3 Phare de Gatteville - Gatteville-le-Phare, France

For centuries, the rough seas along Normandy’s coastline were notorious for claiming countless victims, most notably the White Ship, an English-owned vessel whose sinking left almost all of its 300 passengers dead, except for a single lucky survivor. To mitigate the immense risks, a 25-meter-tall lighthouse was first constructed in 1774 at the locality of Gatteville-le-Phare. However, its insufficient width proved detrimental when a technological upgrade was needed, requiring a far larger structure.

 

Following 6 years of construction works, a younger and taller counterpart was erected in 1835, merely 60 meters away from the first lighthouse, which was subsequently converted into an optical telegraph station. The picturesque 75-meter-tall lighthouse (247 feet) ran on vegetable oil for almost 40 years, with electric device replacing the oily substance only at the end of the 19th century.

 

Since 1997, the stone-covered lighthouse also serves as a museum. To access its observation deck at the gallery level, you’ll first have to climb a staggering 365 steps. Any visitor who successfully complete the exhausting vertical journey is then rewarded with a breathtaking view of the English Channel and the nearby rural communities.

The pair of Phare de Gatteville's lighthouses, with the third tallest lighthouse in the world on the right side

photography by: Pierrestz/ Wikimedia Commons


#2 Lighthouse of Genoa – Genoa, Italy

Standing out amid the zillions of container stacks in Genoa Harbor, the Lanterna di Genova is far more than just a lighthouse. As the third oldest lighthouse in the world, it encompasses much of the city’s tumultuous history. At the time when the first lighthouse of Genoa was built, somewhere around the 12th century, the entire area was a part of a cape (Capo di Faro) that gradually disappeared as the surrounding coastline was filled with earth. Due to its strategically significant location outside the city walls, it was partly converted into a fortress, when several ramparts and buildings were constructed around it.

 

At one point, the lighthouse also served as a prison, which among its conspicuous inmates was no other than the King of Cyprus. But perhaps the lighthouse’s most famous tenant was its 1449’s keeper, Antonio Colombo, uncle of Christopher Columbus, the globally renowned explorer who discovered the American continent.

 

Throughout the centuries, the lighthouse was damaged many times as conflict between different European powers escalated. However, following a deadly battle with the French forces in the 16th century, the lighthouse was crippled beyond repair and had to be reconstructed. The current 76-meter-tall structure dates back to 1543, and was the tallest lighthouse in the world for the next 359 years, until its title was lost to the article’s protagonist.

Standing out amongst the multiple cranes and container stacks in Genoa's port, the incredible the Lanterna di Genova

photography by: Zairon/ Wikimedia Commons


#1 Île Vierge Lighthouse – Finistère, France

The craggy coastline near the French commune of Plouguerneau, at the north western regions of Brittany, is home to dozens of islets and skerries. While most of which were never inhabited due to their miniscule size, the 6-hectare Île Vierge Island was home to a monastic community during the 15th century. Named after a chapel in honor of Virgin Mary that once stood on its premises, the island was purchased by the French government in 1844 for the purpose of constructing a lighthouse to guide the many vessels across the choppy waters around.

 

Originally, a 33-meter-tall ivory-colored lighthouse was inaugurated in 1845, nevertheless, its limited technological capacity soon led to the construction of a taller counterpart, only 25 meters away. At 82.5 meters (271 feet), the Île Vierge Lighthouse is not only the tallest traditional lighthouse in France and Europe, but also throughout the entire world. The record-breaking structure, whose interior walls are covered by more than 12,000 azure blue opaline tiles, emits a white light beam every 5 seconds, visible from as far as 27 nautical miles, or 50 kilometers.

 

Accessible by a short boat trip from the close-by port of Perros, the granite-covered lighthouse is open for visitors, who in order to reach its observatory deck must climb 360 stairs as well as a 32-step metal staircase. Luckily, the hefty ascent is followed by stunning vistas of the Celtic Sea, the English Channel and the surrounding rural landscape.

Île Vierge Lighthouse, the world's tallest traditional lighthouse

photography by: Richard Gertis/ Wikimedia Commons