The Oldest Lighthouse in the World, Hercules Lighthouse
Amongst the sweeping coastal landscape stands a lighthouse as tall as the tales of old, the Hercules Lighthouse. The Hercules Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the world that is still operating today. Each night the light, once operated by olive oil beams out across the Atlantic waters guiding ships safely into its rocky cove. Over the centuries it has become a part of the landscape of Coruña, just as the Colosseum has in Rome.
When I visited Coruña for more than a week with my friend that grew up in Coruña, this was the number one place she recommended visiting. Let me tell you, the views from the top are worth all the steps and huffing and puffing up to each level. Each level has its own educational theme and I collected all of the information to give you a taste of what you can expect.
If you want to visit one of the few UNESCO designated Lighthouses in the world then keep on reading to see what is in store & tips on how to make your visit the best experience possible. Be sure to check out my other articles on Coruña about the best things to see in Coruna, Castle San Anton , Foods to try in Galicia
The Oldest Lighthouse In The World
While the Lighthouse doesn't seem that old with how well it has been preserved, once you enter into the the lighthouse you get a better sense of its age. Outside the lighthouse the stones that make up the lighthouse have been fortified, revamped and restored as of the 18th century.
The original Lighthouse was built in the 1st century BCE by the Romans. The original lighthouse stood around 82 ft (25m) tall, and after the renovation now stands 187 ft (57m) tall.
The Legend of Hercules Lighthouse
There are two different legends associated with the lighthouse a hispanic one and an Irish one. The Spanish version tells of how Hercules killed the giant Gerylon here with an arrow dipped in Hydra's blood. The killing of this giant is considered to be one of the 12 mythic labors that Hercules performed. It is said that the bones of the giant still lie under the lighthouse today, and you can see these bones on the compass near the lighthouse as well as within the flag of Galicia.
Breogán was a medieval christian of Ireland and is the ancestors of the Gaels. He sailed to Iberia and founded a city called Brigantia and built a great tower, the Tower of Hercules some argue it could be the tower of Babel from the Bible.
A UNESCO Lighthouse
The Lighthouse was designated a UNESCO site in 2009 due to the Roman construction, importance to the landscape of Coruna, and the fact that it is still running. It is said that the original architect was Gaius Sevius Lupus, who dedicated an inscription on the rock to Mars Augustus. It is the ONLY Roman lighthouse still in use today.
In the Middle ages it was used as a lookout point (by the Church and the Royalty) to warn the town of attacks from Vikings or Saracens.
Entrance To Hercules Lighthouse
In order to enter the lighthouse there is a mobile unit at the base of the hill, and this is where you will get your tickets. Don't make the mistake that we did, in climbing all the way up the steep hill and only be told that they do not sell tickets at the top.
There is parking available right at the parking lot, they also have water and ice cream bars to enjoy for your climb up. There is a small Museum about the Lighthouse where you go to buy your tickets. Mondays it is free to enter the tower.
The Museum At Hercules Lighthouse
The Museum takes you through the different types of Roman ships that would come to port in Coruña, and how they were made and weighted. There is a massive timeline that takes up an entire wall with all the important events that have ever happened on or near the lighthouse, it is quite impressive. While I don't have the attention span to read every detail, it was fun to look at the highlights of what the Lighthouse has seen the city go through.
One such events was May 5,1589 when Francis Drake led a fleet of 176 ships and 5,000 men on an attack against Coruña. This was also the same time that Maria Pita, the fabled hero of Coruña, inspired the citizens to resist and drive them out. The six soldiers that were stationed at the tower to help defend it were able to hold out for nine days - surviving just on birds they caught that landed on the tower.
Roman Ruins Under Hercules Lighthouse
As you enter into the base of the tower, you can still see the massive Roman stones as big as cattle creating the base of the tower. The outer walls of the tower are 6.5 feet thick (2m).
The ground is covered with medieval sediment on the large stones, and the cornice remains in the place where it first fell. If you look closely you can find small notches where the iron crimps would have been, and would have been covered in lead to help make the structure more solid.
Interior of the Hercules Lighthouse
The tower was built in a prism-shape with a large dome at the 3rd landing you come to. There are three main floors, each having four square barrel chambers separated by walls forming a cross. On the third and final landing of the original lighthouse you can see the original Roman dome.
If you pay close attention you can see the keystones, filler stones to stabilize the larger stones, it is truly a Roman engineering feat. The chambers built in this fashion allowed the tower to hold the weight of the tower. Garrisons of Roman shoulders sheltered in these rooms, you can still see evidence of holes that were drilled into the stone for nails to hold sheets of cloth to separate the different sleeping quarters.
The Top of The Hercules Lighthouse
There are 234 steps in the Hercules lighthouse in order to get to the top, and they are steep. It is fairly easy to find your way to the top as there is only one way in, and one way out. There is a rail next to most of the steps on the way up, and only at the top do the stairs get a lot more narrow and steep. The view at the top is worth it, as it provides 360-degree view of Coruña, the Atlantic, and the surrounding area.
You can spend as much time at the top as you like, but the tower visit it timed and limited to 2 hours so make sure you don't spend too long trying to read all the educational boards on the way up about the tower. I just too my pictures on the way up, and pictures of the signs so I could read them in more detail a bit later.
Statue Garden Near Hercules Lighthouse
There are MANY winding pathways around the lighthouse that lead you to different statues amongst the winds of the Atlantic. There are 116 acres of grasses and wildflowers you can explore near the tower in the spring, which I think is the best time to visit personally.
The statues have a theme surrounding mythology and while some have Roman statue tones to them, there are also very abstract sculptures that compliment the landscape. Each sculpture has references to the sea, navigation, and routes that tell of a calling back to the sea for your next voyage.
For a fill map of each of the 18 sculptures see this PDF of the Sculpture Garden at Hercules Lighthouse.
The Celtic Compass Near The Lighthouse
Make sure to walk down to the peninsula point to see the baseball field sized compass. The different points of the compass point to the respective lands that lead to Santiago. Try to also spot the Celtic point on the compass (my favorite being a Scottish descendant), as well as the Camino Seashell, and the lighthouse and bones underneath it of Hercules.
My Takeaway Of The Hercules Lighthouse
If you were to ask me is the lighthouse worth visiting? I would say a resounding YES, I mean I did walk up a steep hill twice in order to see the views. The entrance with the Roman ruins alone are worth the ticket price alone, and the views are indescribable. In what other time and space can you brag to your friends about stand inside a UNESCO Heritage site atop the Oldest Lighthouse in the world!
If you find yourself in Santiago, take a day trip to Coruña to see the lighthouse and grab some Octopus at Xestal in town. If not, give yourself AT LEAST 3 days in Coruña to really be able to see it all, the lighthouse and the sculpture garden itself require at least a full day to properly explore.
Guided Tours of Coruña
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