A 'Privileged' Topography: Notes on Vitruvius and the Siting of Halicarnassus
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Relatively unmentioned by modern scholars is the fact that a significant proportion of the monuments referenced by Vitruvius in De architectura are located at Halicarnassus. This is noteworthy: Why would the Roman architect focus specifically on this site, so far removed from his own geographical context? Why does it figure so prominently in his geographical imagination? Certain is that the topography of Halicarnassus is one that depicts a classic landscape of power, with its multi-tiered, hill-sited monuments dominating the landscape; the impact on the viewer would have been considerable. Beyond the monument siting, however, there are features that make the city unique in terms of topographical features. Its natural double-port, for instance, would have given the settlement unparalleled defensive advantages. One of the other unique features of the port city is the way its plan incorporates a set of natural features: flat terraces and natural viewpoints, for instance, are dovetailed to the plan to produce what can only be called a scenographic ensemble. The topography itself offered privileges that, blended with a loose grid, enabled a dynamic and defensible urban assemblage that would have awed and inspired any urban participant.
This paper will focus on two notions: The plan-topography of Halicarnassus as one which is privileged, memorable and exemplary, and the links of the site to Vitruvius' architectural and planning imagination. The final part will postulate a reason for Vitruvius' very deliberate and detailed references to the city.