Harbour informations about: Defences

The entrance of the port, located at the southeast corner, was 20m wide, with a wall that was constructed on the moles provided protection.


Fortifications are visible at the eastern edge between the shore and the rocky promontory

The Phoenician harbor in the North Bay of Atlit is the only one along the Israeli coast with sufficient remains that permitted an investigation of the building techniques and harbor engineering prior to the Hellenistic period. This harbor was connected to the southern settlement (which lay between the water and the Phoenician cemetery excavated by Johns), by kurkar slabs pavement that led from the shore to the gate exposed at the foot of the Crusader poterna. Only the passageway and two square towers remained of the gate, which were built of ashlar headers. Johns assumed that they were much older than the Crusader structures.


The Crusader harbor occupied part of the Middle Basin of the Herodin harbor. It seems that during this period the sea level was one meter lower than today, and the Inner Basin was filled up with rubble and silt accumulation west of the round tower. On the sea floor, 30 m west of the tower, another rectangular one was discovered, which was similar in dimensions to those of the Crusader fortress. A wall (N-S orientation), meets this tower from the north; its width at the base is 4-6 m. The western face of the wall is preserved for a height of five or six courses, being built in the similar technique as the outer walls of the Crusader City.

The principal component of the Crusader harbor was the harbor fortress, built on the base of the southern Herodian breakwater. The fortress was separated from land by a wide moat that cut the base of the breakwater on both sides (perhaps at the point where flushing channels had previously existed. Between the base of the southern breakwater, east of the moat, and the submerged tower was an entrance (40 m wide), connecting the city to the harbor.


Archaeologist Petros KALLIGAS agrees on the existence of a fortress that stood on the site where the large western jetty turned, the purpose of which was to protect the port’s entrance.

The interior port was protected by the extension of the eastern wall and its entrance was sheltered by at least one fortifying tower. Today only a very small portion of the fortification is conspicuous due to earth fills that were carried out in the area, as well as to unchecked building.


A modern sea-wall, which existed until 1980, and was located behind the medieval castle at the point where the western breakwater begins, reached a height of 4.5m. This wall, which did not afford complete protection from the elements allows the estimation of the minimum height of the fortified protective wall that would have extended the length of the breakwaters. A small section of masonry located at the middle of the modern mole it is the so-called Frankish Fort. Witnessing also the medieval fortifications is the Castle at the west end of the mole. Also discovered at the ends of the ancient breakwaters were architectural remains possibly belonging to fortified towers at the entrance to the harbour, or even remains of a facility, which regulated the port and the tarrifs that were paid. On the eastern breakwater ruins are also visible which belong to part of the breakwater fortifications.


Raban also considers that the city wall extended along the breakwaters of the two harbours, and possibly the natural ridge, which separated the lagoon from the sea forming the usual "closed harbour" type. On the northeast end of the breakwater of the southern harbour he also recorded a section of fortification wall, outside the main city wall, for further protection.

Flemming, believes the wall to be a reef that acted as a natural wall between the city and the sea during the 4th century BC. He also interprets several opening on this natural wall as streets that led from the city to the sea.


According again to Westholm the city wall was continued over the eastern mole, which was visible under the waters surface, clearly forming the known Classical type of closed harbour (Limen Kleistos).


Interesting information was also revealed by the excavations conducted between 1975 and 1978 at a site in Pływacka Street. A string of edge-to-edge connected boxes was found there; the faces of the boxes at the water side were strengthened by vertical logs. As a result of further research the boxes have been interpreted as the construction of a defensive embankment.


The fort

Period 1

In Period 1a, the first or initial fort - in fact a kind of temporary `construction camp' - was built on the sluggish southern shore of the Oer-IJ river. In this period, the shape was more or less triangular (see fig. 2). The defences mainly consisted of an earthen wall, with a simple external ditch in front of them (fig. 2: wal and spitsgracht). A simple timber palisade defended the eastern part of the enclosed river shore, with a centrally placed, simple wooden gate (fig. 2: poort). This `fort' did not initially have any harbour works, although ships could have been beached on the undefended western, gently sloping riverbank.
Shortly afterwards though, in a transitional period between Periods 1a and 1b (Period 1a/1b), the simple wooden fence was provided with an extra, more substantial gate. This harbour gate (fig. 2: in red) gave access to a short open jetty (fig. 2: kleine steiger), at which bigger ships could unload, for instance, building material for the next period. Thus ships no longer needed to be beached.

Period 1a is dated to AD 16.

In Period 1b, a more permanent fort, similar in shape, replaced the `construction camp' (see fig.3 ). The new defences followed almost exactly the course of the previous one (: verloop verdediging per. 1a, in red). The earthen defensive walls now were replaced by a box-rampart, a so-called Holz-Erdemauer, which consisted of two parallel wooden revetment walls, set into a foundation trench, with vertical posts at approximately 1.3 m intervals set slightly deeper (fig.3: houtaarde muur). The 3 m wide space between the timber revetments, was filled with spoil from the single ditch in front of it. The Holz-Erdemauer was provided with simple wooden towers (fig.3: toren) and probably one (or more) simple gates, of which the ground plan was not distinguishable from that of the towers. The eastern riverside section was also provided with a, somewhat narrower, Holz-Erdemauer. In this period, extensive harbour works were constructed, consisting of three moles (fig.3: westpier, noordpier and oostpier) and a single shipshed (fig.3: scheepshuis).

Period 1b is dated to AD 16-22

After only a couple of years, erosion caused by the river running alongside the fort (see  fig.12 below), necessitated modifications to the harbour works in Period 1c (see fig.4). The partially washed away shipshed also had to be replaced by a similar construction of almost exactly the same dimensions. It seems that the fort itself remained unchanged, possibly with the exception of some repairs or minor modifications, for instance, at the north-western end of the defences. There a part of the former ditch from period 1b was `widened' by the above-mentioned erosion and provided with a protective revetment, thus forming a substantial harbour basin (fig.4: insteekhaven).
To the west of the fort, the slight remains of a single ditch, running parallel to the rivershore seems to indicate a defended working area outside the fort itself.
An interesting feature, is a small, defended `camp' opposite the main fort, provided with a small basin. Here ships could moor relatively safe in `hostile' Friesian territory. Such small `Bruckenköpfe', but from a later period, are known from Roman forts along The Rhine and Donau, permitting the romans to unload military personel in the german territories. The possibility remains, that this Bruckenköpf dates from, or was still in use in period 2

Period 1c is dated to approximately AD 22-25.

Period 2

The fort from period 1b/c was possibly abandoned for a (short) period of time. In Period 2, a `construction camp' was again the first to be built (here named Period 2a, see  fig.5). The defences, this time oval in shape, consisted again of an earthen wall with a single ditch in front of it, only encircling the harbour works from the previous period, with the exception of the shipshed. This defence probably still incorporated the Holz-Erdemauer along the (eastern) riverside section ( fig.5: oevermuur per.1b).

Period 2a is dated to approximately AD 25.

In Period 2b, the fort got its final trapezoidal shape (see fig.6). To the east, the defences followed directly those from Period 2a, but westward they were extended up to the line of the period 1b/c western Holz-Erdemauer. The new defences consisted of an earthen wall with wooden towers and (at least) one double wooden gate in the west (fig.6: poort). The defences were now encircled by three ditches, which stopped shortly before the so-called insteekhaven from period 1c.
The total river shore within the defences now remained undefended. In the harbour, open jetties replaced most of the massive moles from period 1, with an extra jetty outside the eastern defences (fig.6: vierde steiger). This new jetty, outside the defences, was controlled by a sturdy platform, added to the eastern end of the defensive wall (fig.6verdedigings-platform).
To the west (and possibly also to the south and east) of the fort, a new defensive single ditch was dug, thus providing a bigger defended working area, for instance, for ship repair, `dirty' activities and so on. It also incorporated the so-called vierde steiger and a new, this time double, shipshed, since the shipshed from period 1c, if still usable, obstructed the new double gate.
A most interesting feature, was a huge well, 3 x 3 m in plan. From this well, a wooden aqueduct transported fresh, clean water to ships in the western insteekhaven. This might seem illogical, but the activities of the Romans must have polluted the harbour area. Water from the river itself (possibly also somewhat brackish) could not be used any more as drinking water.

Period 2b is dated to approximately AD 25-28.

At the end of period 2b, in AD 28, the fort was attacked by the Friesians, as mentioned by Tacitus (see above General dating of Velsen 1). It is probable that the attackers did not take the fort itself, but that the defended working area outside the fort was overwhelmed, as is shown by the distribution of lead shots. Even if the fort itself remained undamaged, the `loss' of the working area represented a problem. It was there that the double shipshed and the most important well were situated.
It is clear, that the Romans did not immediately abandon Velsen 1, but they had to find a solution to encounter the problems with the weak defences of the working area. This was done by replacing them by a defence, comparable to those of the main fort (see  fig.7) and connected with it. This consisted of an earthen wall, but now only encircled by two, quite deep, ditches. The wall was provided with the `normal' towers (set wider apart than those of the defences from period 2b) and two narrow gates, one to the east - close to the fort defences - and one to the west. Dendrochronological dating of posts from one of the `new' towers suggests a building date slightly later than AD 28.
How long the occupation of Velsen 1 lasted is unclear. Velsen seems to have been abandoned for at least some time. Velsen 2 (mentioned above), situated 1 km to the west, was build around AD 40, It is possible that the Romans first (re)occupied Velsen 1 as a temporary base, from which Velsen 2 was build.


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