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Cape St. Vincent in Portugal is the most south-western point in Europe.  During Roman times, this was considered the end of the world.  There is a wonderful legend that the tomb of Saint Vincent was on the cape (hence its name) and that the the tomb was guarded by ravens.  Naturally such a mystic place should have a lighthouse, and this one does.

Lighthouse
       Image 1: Cape St. Vincent and lighthouse.  Attribution: HibaHaba / Flickr
There's been a light station at Cape St. Vincent since the 1500s or so, but the existing lighthouse was built in 1846, and extensively modified in 1908.  One previous lighthouse was destroyed by Sir Francis Drake in a raid in 1587.  The present tower is round and built of unpainted stone.  

The lantern house at the top of the tower is painted red, making it easier to see during the day.  (Lighthouses also function as important daymarks.)

Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
       Image 2: Cape St. Vincent light at night.  Attribution: Tony Bowden / Flickr
Image 2 is a wonderful image, it reminds me of the poem by Longfellow, which begins:
The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
   And on its outer point, some miles away,
The Lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
   A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

Columbus Was Here
       Image 3: Aerial view.  Attribution: J. Mark Dodds / Flickr
The light station itself is a wonderful complex of buildings and courtyards.  In these days of GPS navigation, lighthouses seem to be disregarded, and some of them, including many in this country, have sunk into states of terrible disrepair.  

I haven't seen any evidence of this in the photographs I've seen of lighthouses in Portugal, perhaps it is because in that country, the lighthouses fall under the jurisdiction of the navy.  Also, Portugal, with its struggling economy, is desperate for tourism and there's nothing like a scenic location with a well-kept lighthouse to bring in the tourists.

In Image 3, you can see the buildings of the light station, many of which appear to be reinforced by large buttresses.  Portugal has suffered from terrible earthquakes over the years, and one lighthouse at Cape St. Vincent was destroyed by one.  These architectural features appear to be intended as anti-earthquake devices.

Sagres Phare
       Image 4: Hyper-radiant lens.  Attribute: Mario De Carli / Flickr
Every lighthouse has a lighting apparatus.  For many years, the ultimate apparatus was the Fresnel lens, actually a series of carefully manufactured lenses and prisms, designed to concentrate the rays of light from a small flame into a narrow beam that could be seen from many miles away.  Fresnel lenses were rated by "orders", ranging from 1st order (largest) to 6th order.  

The Cape St. Vincent lighthouse was equipped with a very rare and expensive Fresnel apparatus called a "hyper-radiant" lens, meaning that it was so much larger than than 1st order lens (itself a very large piece of machinery) that it was off the chart.  These lenses were extremely expensive and were reserved for only the most important light stations.  Cape St. Vincent was considered one of these, and to this day, the hyper-radiant lens displays a light which can be seen 60 kilometers away.

Image 4 shows the massive lens in the lantern house of the tower.  The windows of the tower are surrounded with a protective screen, which from my reading seems to have been made necessary to prevent sea-birds, which can become fascinated by the light, from crashing into the lantern house windows.

Also, note in image 4 the lantern house curtains have been raised, which generally are lowered during the day, as shown in image 3.  These curtains are necessary to protect the glass lens components from being discolored by exposure to sunlight.

If you're interested in lighthouses, see Russ Rowlett's Lighthouse Directory hosted by the University of North Carolina, which provided most of the facts for this diary.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:37 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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