Beacon on the Rock: The Dramatic History of Lighthouses from Ancient Greece to the Present Day

By Peter Williams | Go to book overview


Chapter 9 I TOURISM, CONSERVATION, AND PRESERVATION

As we saw in the previous chapter, the process of automation during the last century slowly but surely
removed the need f or lighthouse keepers. The development of satellite technology that assisted the monitoring
of remote stations and global positioning equipment, and now enables lighthouse authorities to know exactly
whether their floating aids to navigation are on station, has sounded the death knell f or lighthouses. The
reason is quite simple. Anyone, not just mariners, can now go to their local electronics store and, for less
than $100, purchase a “user-friendly” Global Positioning System (GPS) instrument that will tell them
where they are on the earth's surface with enough accuracy for all normal use.

THE PROFESSIONAL MARINER AND the pleasure-boat owner with a larger budget can buy and install a chart plotter, which, when combined with GPS, will show them exactly where they are in relation to their intended route, and any dangers they might encounter along the way. They no longer need the guidance of a lighthouse by day or night.

We have seen that lighthouses are paid for in many parts of the world by the imposition of light clues on the ships that use the lights. Now that ships do not need the lighthouses, there is a growing commercial pressure on the lighthouse authorities to reduce or even cease to charge dues. The modern automatic lamp in its acrylic housing stuck on a pole may be very economical to operate, but a similar lamp in a 200-yearold masonry tower, while economical in its operation alone, will actually cost much more because its surroundings are expensive to maintain. The economic fact is that, without revenue from light dues, lighthouse operators will be unable to maintain the lights in the traditional towers unless they find ways of raising revenue by alternative and complementary use of the buildings for profit.

Fortunately, the problem is not new and has been addressed by some of the major lighthouse-owning authorities during the last 20 years. As lighthouses have become redundant—and some, sadly, have been demolished by being bulldozed or simply pushed over cliffs—others have been given, sold, or leased for use as homes, museums, and heritage centers. This chapter tells the story of the successes and the failures. But first let's explore the early days of lighthouse visiting, for, as we shall learn, it is by no means a recent leisure activity.

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