Symbolising safety and reassurance in the stormiest of seas, more than 18,600 lighthouses worldwide guide ships away from reefs, rocks and rugged coastlines. The advent of computerised navigation technology has triggered their demise, however, and eliminated the need for lighthouse keepers. Surviving signal towers are mostly automated and rely on solar power and halogen lights – a far cry from the hilltop bonfires and oil-burning lamps that guided ancient mariners. Lighthouses are invariably situated in areas of outstanding natural beauty and, in recent years, governments have been selling off the historic but increasingly obsolete buildings. Maintenance costs are high but the views are unbeatable – it’s no surprise many have been converted into hotels, B&Bs and holiday cottages. On August 7 each year, the United States celebrates National Lighthouse Day. The occasion offers the public a chance to visit and learn about a nautical navigational aid that was invented with the noble aim of ensuring the safety of strangers. In a nod to these majestic maritime monuments, here’s an international list of lighthouses, each with its own claim to fame. The US was once home to at least 850 lighthouses but not many have signalled to seafarers from more than one location. Mayo Beach Lighthouse was cast in the late 19th century and installed overlooking Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1925, it was dismantled for scrap metal, or so locals assumed, but, three years later, it turned up on a rocky stretch of California coastline, south of San Francisco. Today Point Montara Lighthouse welcomes guests in its current guise as a youth hostel, with its own private beach no less. The world’s first great lighthouse, the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, was built in the third century BC. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it stood sentinel outside the Mediterranean port until its demolition, in 1480. Today, the honour of oldest operational lighthouse goes to the Tower of Hercules , which incorporates architectural flourishes borrowed from its illustrious predecessor. Situated at the entrance of La Coruna harbour, in Galicia, Spain, it’s the only lighthouse that’s been standing since Roman times. The beam from the World Heritage Site projects for 23 nautical miles. Eilean Mor Lighthouse , in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, was the scene of a sinister mystery that has never been solved. On December 26, 1900, the captain of a ship bringing supplies and replacement staff noticed the light wasn’t working. Nor was there any sign of the three lighthouse keepers at the landing station. He sounded the ship’s horn and fired a distress flare to no avail and a relief crew member rowed ashore to investigate. In the kitchen he found half-eaten food and an overturned chair. The clocks had stopped and there had been no log entries for more than a week. Were the trio blown off a cliff in strong winds, washed into the sea by a giant wave or even – wait for it – taken aboard a ghost ship? The Vanishing (2019), starring Gerard Butler, offers its own version of events. Waglan Island wasn’t part of colonial Hong Kong when a state-of-the-art lighthouse was installed in 1893. Constructed by China’s Imperial Maritime Customs Service, the facility southeast of Stanley is now a declared monument . A posting to Waglan wasn’t without hardship. Besides a four-week duty cycle, regular water shortages andtyphoons, it was bombed by Allied aircraft during World War II. Automated in 1989, the lighthouse still functions as a navigational aid and provides weather information for the Hong Kong Observatory. The tower is maintained by the Marine Department but the compound of offices and workshops has fallen into disrepair. The automated Les Éclaireurs Lighthouse , near Ushuaia, Argentina, is erroneously credited as the inspiration for the 1905 Jules Verne novel The Lighthouse at the End of the World (that honour should go to the nearby San Juan del Salvamento). It’s also claimed that Les Éclaireurs is the most southerly lighthouse on the planet, but that accolade belongs to the beacon on Cape Horn Island, Chile. Navy officer Captain Ariel Barrientos is currently stationed at the windswept outpost with his family. He performs surveillance tasks and provides weather bulletins to passing ships, vital work in the notoriously hazardous waters around Tierra del Fuego, which are estimated to have claimed more than 10,000 lives. Built in the 12th century, Hook Lighthouse , in Ireland, is the world’s second oldest continuously operating maritime beacon, although monks lit fires to warn seafarers of treacherous rocks here as long ago as the fifth century. After its completion, holy men from a nearby monastery were responsible for keeping a light burning in the medieval tower – blackened interior walls are evidence that coal was the fuel of choice. Today, Hook Head, as it’s also known, is one of a dozen Great Lighthouses of Ireland, a tourism board initiative aimed at promoting their history and heritage through visits and overnight stays. Raffles Lighthouse , on tiny Pulau Satumu (One Tree Island), Singapore’s southernmost point, is named after colonial founder Sir Stamford Raffles . It relies on solar power to run its energy-efficient quartz halogen lamps – times have moved on since the days of wick-burning oil lanterns. The white granite tower opened in 1855 and is one of five lighthouses warning ships of sandbars and reefs in the Singapore Strait, and the presence of huge oil tankers manoeuvring into and out of the world’s second busiest port. The first automated lighthouse in Greece looks like the CGI-generated hideout of a Bond villain. Situated off Andros Island, the original Tourlitis Lighthouse was destroyed during WWII and only rebuilt in the 1990s, after a donation from a wealthy Greek family. Tower 2.0 perches precariously on a gnarled chunk of rock shaped by centuries of erosion and surrounded by the azure Aegean. At 133 metres, Jeddah Light is the world’s tallest lighthouse, although a nit-picker might argue the steel-and-concrete structure doesn’t qualify as it doubles as a control tower for the busy Saudi Arabian port. Nevertheless, the striking landmark warns approaching ships of a perilous reef. Access to the docks is restricted but the lighthouse is best viewed from a distance, preferably at sunset. Let’s finish where we started, in the US. Many vessels heading for foggy San Francisco during the California Gold Rush ran aground or were wrecked, prompting calls for a system of navigational support. The Alcatraz Island Lighthouse began beaming in 1854 and was the first of its kind on the west coast. From 1861, the fortified military base was used to house civil war prisoners and received civilian criminals from 1934, including infamous gangster Al Capone and bank robber George “Machine Gun” Kelly. The jail closed in 1963 but the blinking building is still operational.