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This page discusses 'beacons in general, which are often created by fires, lights or other means designed to attract attention. See also: Radio beacon, which are non-visual radio signals for navigational and other purposes. For other uses of the word, see Beacon .

A beacon is an intentionally conspicuous device designed to attract attention to a specific location.

Beacons can also be combined with semaphoric or other indicators to provide important information, such as the status of an airport, by the colour and rotational pattern of its airport beacon, or of pending weather as indicated on a weather beacon mounted at the top of a tall building or similar site. When used in such fashion, beacons can be considered a form of optical telegraphy.

For navigation

Beacons help guide navigators to their destinations. Types of navigational beacons include radar reflectors, radio beacons, sonic and visual signals. Visual beacons range from small, single-pile structures to large lighthouses or light stations and can be located on land or on water. Lighted beacons are called lights; unlighted beacons are called daybeacons.

For defensive communications

Classically, beacons were fires lit at well-known locations on hills or high places, used either as lighthouses for navigation at sea, or for signalling over land that enemy troops were approaching, in order to alert defenses. As signals, beacons are an ancient form of optical telegraphy, and were part of a relay league.

Systems of this kind have existed for centuries over much of the world. In Scandinavia many hill forts were part of beacon networks to warn against invading pillagers. In Walesmarker, the Brecon Beaconsmarker were named for beacons used to warn of approaching Englishmarker raiders. In England, the most famous examples are the beacons used in Elizabethan England to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada. Many hills in Englandmarker were named Beacon Hill after such beacons. In the Scottish borders country a system of beacon fires were at one time established to warn of incursions by the English. Hume, Eggerstone castle and Soltra Edge were part of this network.

Other uses

Beacons and bonfires are also used to mark occasions and celebrate events. In Israelmarker beacons identify the beginning of the month.

Beacons have also been abused by pirates. An illicit fire at a wrong position could be used to direct a ship against shoals or beaches, so that its cargo could be looted after the ship sank or ran aground.

In fiction

In The Lord of the Rings, a series of seven beacons is used as a signaling device between Gondor and Rohan. [293] In the film adaptation of The Return of the King, Gandalf has Pippin light the beacon closest to Minas Tirith. The series is then lit, thereby notifying Rohan's King Théoden that Gondor calls for help in the battle against Sauron.

See also


  1. Ritchie, Leitch (1835). Scott and Scotland. London : Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman. p. 53

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