The Ten Books on Architecture, 5.12

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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Harbours, Breakwaters, and Shipyards

12The subject of the usefulness of harbours is one which I must not omit, but must explain by what means ships are sheltered in them from storms. If their situation has natural advantages, with projecting capes or promontories which curve or return inwards by their natural conformation, such harbours are obviously of the greatest service. Round them, of course, colonnades or shipyards must be built, or passages from the colonnades to the business quarters, and towers must be set up on both sides, from which chains can be drawn across by machinery.

2But if we have a situation without natural advantages, and unfit to shelter ships from storms, it is obvious that we must proceed as follows. If there is no river in the neighbourhood, but if there can be a roadstead on one side, then, let the advances be made from the other side by means of walls or embankments, and let the enclosing harbour be thus formed. Walls which are to be under water should be constructed as follows. Take the powder which comes from the country extending from Cumae to the promontory of Minerva, and mix it in the mortar trough in the proportion of two to one.

3Then, in the place previously determined, a cofferdam, with its sides formed of oaken stakes with ties between them, is to be driven down into the water and firmly propped there; then, the lower surface inside, under the water, must be levelled off and dredged, working from beams laid across; and finally, concrete from the mortar trough—the stuff having been mixed as prescribed above—must be heaped up until the empty space which was within the cofferdam is filled up by the wall. This, however, is possessed as a gift of nature by such places as have been described above.

But if by reason of currents or the assaults of the open sea the props cannot hold the cofferdam together, then, let a platform of the greatest possible strength be constructed, beginning on the ground itself or on a substructure; and let the platform be constructed with a level surface for less than half its extent, while the rest, which is close to the beach, slopes down and out.

4Then, on the water’s edge and at the sides of the platform, let marginal walls be constructed, about one and one half feet thick and brought up to a level with the surface above mentioned; next, let the sloping part be filled in with sand and levelled off with the marginal wall and the surface of the platform. Then, upon this level surface construct a block as large as is required, and when it is finished, leave it for not less than two months to dry. Then, cut away the marginal wall which supports the sand. Thus, the sand will be undermined by the waves, and this will cause the block to fall into the sea. By this method, repeated as often as necessary, an advance into the water can be made.

5But in places where this powder is not found, the following method must be employed. A cofferdam with double sides, composed of charred stakes fastened together with ties, should be constructed in the appointed place, and clay in wicker baskets made of swamp rushes should be packed in among the props. After this has been well packed down and filled in as closely as possible, set up your water-screws, wheels, and drums, and let the space now bounded by the enclosure be emptied and dried. Then, dig out the bottom within the enclosure. If it proves to be of earth, it must be cleared out and dried till you come to solid bottom and for a space wider than the wall which is to be built upon it, and then filled in with masonry consisting of rubble, lime, and sand.

6But if the place proves to be soft, the bottom must be staked with piles made of charred alder or olive wood, and then filled in with charcoal as has been prescribed in the case of the foundations of theatres and the city wall. Finally, build the wall of dimension stone, with the bond stones as long as possible, so that particularly the stones in the middle may be held together by the joints. Then, fill the inside of the wall with broken stone or masonry. It will thus be possible for even a tower to be built upon it.

7When all this is finished, the general rule for shipyards will be to build them facing the north. Southern exposures from their heat produce rot, the wood worm, shipworms, and all sorts of other destructive creatures, and strengthen and keep them alive. And these buildings must by no means be constructed of wood, for fear of fire. As for their size, no definite limit need be set, but they must be built to suit the largest type of ship, so that if even larger ships are hauled up, they may find plenty of room there.

I have described in this book the construction and completion of all that I could remember as necessary for general use in the public places of cities. In the following book I shall consider private houses, their conveniences, and symmetrical proportions.

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