San Juan del Salvamento Lighthouse

IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2020 Nominee

Location: ARGENTINA - Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur. Isla de los Estados.

Lighthouse Operator: Argentine Naval Hydrographic Service. Ministry of Defence

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Source: (photos as submitted to accompany nomination form by Argentine Naval Hydrographic Service - Ministry of Defence in 2020)

Lighthouse Description and History

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Argentine Naval Hydrographic Service – Ministry of Defence in 2020)
It was built in 1884 and it is the oldest Argentine lighthouse in southern waters.The lighthouse was constructed when the South Atlantic Expeditionary Division, under the command of Commodore Augusto Lasserre, settled a Coast Guard delegation under the Argentine Navy, a prison and a rescue centre aimed at offering assistance to the many shipwrecks that occurred in the vicinity of Hornos cape because of the topography of the area: cliffs that range from 60 to150 metres in height and rocky ledges.This lighthouse was a house built of a sort of local wood which is referred to as “lenga” or “roble de Tierra de Fuego” (Nothofagus pumilio). It was only 5 metres in height and 9 metres in diameter.

The light was provided by eight fixed kerosene lamps placed near the windows with Fresnel lens glass panels.The famous writer Jules Verne, author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, among others, inspired himself in the loneliness of Isla de los Estados and its lighthouse for the writing of his novel “The lighthouse at the end of the world”, in which three Argentines responsible for safeguarding the lighthouse fought against a gang of twelve pirates.During summer 1998, a group of French who were attracted by the history of the lighthouse rebuilt it together with the Argentine Naval Hydrographic Service. Nowadays, it is powered with solar panels and in February 2020, an AIS-Aton has also been settled.Executive Decree N° 1388/76 declares the lighthouse a National Heritage Monument.

Reason For Nomination

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Argentine Naval Hydrographic Service. Ministry of Defence in 2020)
Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse

The light is extremely important for Argentina because it is an icon of the beaconing period that began at the end of the 19th century. It became operational on 25 May 1884 and from that moment on and during eighteen uninterrupted years, it fulfilled its mission of warning mariners against the dangers in the proximity of Isla de los Estados. Due to its decay and the belief that its location was not the proper one for the nearby islands that blocked the visibility of the light, it was unlit in October 1902 when it was replaced by Año Nuevo Lighthouse located in the northern coast of Isla de los Estados.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight the historic value that it has because, as previously stated, it is an icon of the Argentine beaconing. Thus and with the aim of preserving it, the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia (in Spanish, Museo Marítimo de Ushuaia), the Museum at the end of the world (in Spanish, Museo del Fin del Mundo) and the Argentine Navy signed an agreement in order to perform a human historic survey at San Juan del Salvamento. Consequently, works were carried out in the cemetery, the pier, the coast guard premises and the lighthouse. In 1997, the remains of the lighthouse were shipped to Ushuaia on icebreaker ARA “ALMIRANTE IRIZAR”. In October of that same year, at the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia, an exact replica of the lighthouse was inaugurated, which was built in accordance with the drawings drafted by Mr. Gonik, a civil engineer, old pictures and Mr. Roberto Payro’s accounts, a journalist of the Argentine newspaper La Nación. Inside the lighthouse, there are archaeological works carried out in San Juan del Salvamento and Isla de los Estado and the recreation of lightkeepers’ life.

It is also worth mentioning the worldwide fame this lighthouse has acquired. Its inhospitable location, far away from the most important world centres, inspired the French writer Jules Verne to write his work “The lighthouse at the end of the world”, published in 1905 after his death. Besides the international recognition gained after Verne’s novel, the lighthouse was baptized “The lighthouse at the end of the world” after the book.

At the end of the last century, Mr. André Bronner, a Verne’s novel French fan, who had previously visited Isla de los Estados, returned to the place together with ten men with the purpose of rebuilding the legendary lighthouse. It took six weeks for the expedition, which included a carpenter, two painters, a photographer, a camera operator and a musician, to rebuild an octagonal lighthouse on San Juan del Salvamento point that was lighted again on 26 February 1998. It is important to mention that two years later, Mr. Bronner built a second lighthouse, a replica of San Juan del Salvamento lighthouse, in La Rochelle, France.

In 2019, Bronner returned in order to replace the light system and build a wall adjoined to the lighthouse, which is 3 metres long and 1.5 metre in height and is referred to as memorial, a place where travellers can leave their messages or commemorative plaques.
Nowadays, the Argentine Navy is responsible for the maintenance of all hydrographic signals in the southern area. Every forty-five days, a complement arrives at the place and enters into the lighthouse in order to check the state of the wiring of the inner light system, the batteries and the lamp.


The state of preservation of the lighthouse is excellent. It is worth mentioning that in 2019, Mr. Bronner and the Argentine Navy, which helped with the shipping of the materials, upgraded the light system with led technology and new solar panels that provide the light with a 75 day autonomy without sun.

Public Access and Education

It is permanently open (without a lightkeeper) for all vessels navigating the vicinity of the area. Protocolary visits must be scheduled in advance with the ARGENTINE NAVY (Naval General Secretariat) in order to make transportation arrangements.

As regards education, classes are imparted in institutes and at schools about the heritage of the lighthouse, its history, its contribution as an aid to navigation and the importance of lighthouses as a whole.