By Christopher Brookes
As a tour leader, I have been busily researching and planning the USLHS Baltic Jewels Tour and have become fascinated by the amazing array of lighthouses we will visit! Kopu, one of the many we will see, is the oldest standing lighthouse in Estonia (third oldest lighthouse in the world) and has a most interesting history.
Russian and Baltic merchants began pushing for a lighthouse to be built at Kopu in the late 1400’s. The Bishop finally gave his permission to begin construction in 1500. It took thirty one years, 26 million tons of stone and a few wars before the first fires were ever lit on top in 1531.
Nighttime fires were tended by six men and kept alight for 10 months of the year (no fires during the two months closest to the Summer Solstice when it never really gets dark.) They initially hoped to burn coal but this proved to be too expensive and impractical. Hence the need for wood, lots of wood, as they burned through 1,000 cords of wood a year. Over the centuries this resulted in the complete deforestation of the Kopu peninsula.
I’m so glad our 118’ climb to the top of Kopu lighthouse is a 21st Century climb and not a 19th Century visit. Initially access to the top was only by wooden stairs up the outside walls. The wood stairs were replaced in the early 1800’s by iron rails also up the outside walls. It’s hard to visualize a trusty USLHS tour leader belayed to the top tower, holding tightly onto climbing ropes so 15 -20 people on the tour can clamber 100’ up the outside walls. The good news is that an interior stairway was tunneled through in the late 1800’s.
Join us for a visit to this historic lighthouse and many others on our Baltic Jewels lighthouse tour in May, 2017. Visit www.uslhs.org/tours or call 415-362-7255 for more information.