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Maintaining an inventory of historic lighthouses

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New navigation systems have made historic lighthouses less necessary for the marine traffic, leading in some cases to their deterioration or destruction. Initiatives have arisen around the world to recognise the rich cultural heritage that these lighthouses represented. A few countries have designated official public organisations to inventory and preserve lighthouses, but non-governmental organisations and private initiatives with varying geographical scope, from local to worldwide, have also played a significant role in maintaining this heritage.

The history of lighthouses traces back to the Roman and Greek antiquity. Among the most ancient lighthouses still in place in the EU, we can find the Tower of Hercule (Torre de Hérculos) in Galicia, Spain dating from the 2nd century and classified under the UNESCO World Heritage or the Dubris Pharos by the Dover Castle in Kent, United Kingdom dating from the 1st century. The 19th century, however, with the arrival of the electricity, marks the largest development of lighthouses in the history with the construction of a belt of lighthouses along the main maritime coastlines.

Nowadays, active lighthouses are still generally managed by maritime services, but many historic lighthouses  have become more relevant for their patrimonial value than for the marine traffic. Some countries have run extensive inventories such as the French national inventory carried out in France in 2002 by the Ministry of Culture in coordination with the Ministry of Equipment, in charge of the maintenance of lighthouses, but the largest inventories of historic lighthouses worldwide are carried out by non-governmental organisations or individuals. The main sources for the EMODNet project have been the Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) and the website Lighthouse R Us.

historic lighthouse data

The Amateur Radio Lighhouse Society (ARLHS), used as the primary source for the EMODnet project was founded in 2000 with the aim to promote public awareness and preserve the heritage and history of lighthouses. It maintains a catalog, continuously updated based on feedback received by its members and travellers, called the World Lists of Lights, which contains information on 15,345 Lighthouses around the world, including coordinates, names and status (still in place or removed/destroyed). The website Lighthouses R Us was built with the intention to help travellers planning trips around lighthouses. It initially focused on North and South America, but now includes Europe.  The website relies on various printed and internet sources, including the ARLHS and provides detailed coordinates as well as pictures and links to available historical information and descriptions. Another example of such website is the Lighthouse Directory, founded in 1999 and hosted by the University of North Carolina, which contains information on around 18,700 lighthouses around the world, also including pictures, descriptions and historic information.

These organisations and websites are very valuable sources of information. They are complementary to sources related to marine traffic, which may include more detailed information on physical characteristics (height, structure, year built, etc.) and activity (operational or not, flashes, number of flashing, etc.) but do not provide information on the patrimonial value. A first test to compare datasets from maritime services in Britanny, France with data obtained from the ARLHS or Lighthouse R Us shows that these initiatives offer a very good coverage. The strategy under the EMODNet project therefore is to use the ARLHS and Lighhouse R US as the primary sources, for their extensive coverage and more patrimonial oriented approach and integrate data from other sources to add additional attributes, for instance on physical characteristics.

The EMODnet lighthouse GIS dataset is now available to view and download as a free resource.

The information and views set out in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on the European Commission's behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information therein.

July 21st, 2016 | Written by

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