When mariners first dared to venture into the unknown seas, they relied on the heavens to chart their course. But even the most experienced sailor could be undone by treacherous coastlines, obscured by darkness or inclement weather. It was in such circumstances that the invention of the lighthouse became a critical beacon of safety. The contenders for the tallest lighthouse in the world are true architectural marvels, and their construction reveals a fascinating intersection of science, engineering, and design.
But lighthouses serve a purpose far beyond their physical stature or the technical marvels they represent. These structures have played a critical role in maritime navigation since they were first lit, their beams penetrating the fog of uncertainty that once shrouded the vast oceans. Lighthouses have been – and remain – the silent sentinel, tirelessly guiding vessels away from perilous shorelines and towards safe passage.
Where GPS and advanced maritime navigation systems can fail, the world’s tallest lighthouses are vital landmarks for visual navigation, as well as cultural and historical icons that connect us to our seafaring past.
Here are the contenders for the world’s biggest lighthouse measured by the height of the tower.
Location: Świnoujście, Poland | Built: 1857 | Height: 65 metres
Situated on the east bank of the river Świna connecting the Szczecin Lagoon with the Baltic Sea, the Świnoujście Lighthouse is the tallest in Poland and the largest lighthouse on the planet made entirely from brick. On a clear day, the view can reach approximately 45 kilometres and next to the lighthouse is the keeper’s cottage and a museum.
Location: Lower Saxony, Germany | Built: 1889 | Height: 65 metres
Germany’s tallest and most powerful lighthouse with a light intensity of 4,500,000 candelas, the Campen is a free-standing steel lattice tower close to an estuary on the River Ems. One of the world’s tallest lighthouses, it’s also home to Germany’s oldest working diesel engine. The light has a range of 30 nautical miles, or 56 kilometres.
Recalada a Bahía Blanca Light
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina | Built: 1906 | Height: 67 metres
Known as the Monte Hermoso Light or Recalada Light, it isn’t the biggest lighthouse in the world but is the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere, and the world’s tallest metal lighthouse. There are 331 steps to the top and the metalwork was prefabricated by the same company who made the structure of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Overlooking the Atlantic coast, the light, with a range of 28 nautical miles, or 52 kilometres, flashes once every nine seconds.
Location: Hainan, China | Built: 1995 | Height: 72 metres
China’s tallest lighthouse and one of the tallest lighthouses in the world, the Mulantou Lighthouse is also known as the Hainan Head Light. The concrete tower stands on a dramatic promontory marking the southern entrance to the Qiongzhou Strait, connecting the Gulf of Tonkin to the South China Sea. The lighthouse flashes two white beams every fifteen seconds with an effective range of 25 nautical miles, or 46 kilometres.
Lighthouse of Genoa
Location: Genoa, Italy | Built: 1543 | Height: 76 metres
Between 1543 and the opening of Île Vierge (qv) over 300 years later, Lanterna di Genova – or as it’s affectionately known, Lanterna – was said to be the biggest lighthouse in the world. It’s also one of the oldest extant lighthouses in the world, alongside such contenders as the Tower of Hercules in Spain and Estonia’s Kõpu Lighthouse. One of the world’s most beautiful lighthouses, Genoa Lighthouse was used as a prison in the early fifteenth century to house, amongst others, King James II of Cyprus. In 1449, the keeper of the lighthouse was Antonio Colombo, the uncle of Christopher Columbus.
Location: Brittany, France | Built: 1902 | Height: 82.5 metres
Europe’s tallest stone lighthouse, and the tallest lighthouse in the world built exclusively for navigational purposes, sits 1.5 kilometres off France’s northwestern coast, close to the town of Plouguerneau. According to the International Hydrographic Organisation, it marks the southwestern limit of the English Channel. Île Vierge is home to two lighthouses, the taller of which flashes a white light every five seconds, visible at a range of 27 nautical miles, or 50 kilometres.
Jeddah Port Control Tower
Location: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia | Built: 1990 | Height: 131.4 metres
While it wasn’t primarily built to aid navigation, the concrete and steel Jeddah Light at the northern entrance to the Jeddah Seaport is the largest lighthouse on the planet. As well as a lighthouse, the tower is used as a control room for the port and harbour and the light has a range of 25 nautical miles, or 46 kilometres.