Architecture hidraulique, seconde partie, que comprend l’art de diriger les eaux de la mer & des rivieres de la defense des places, du commerce & de l’agriculture.

Bernard Forest de Belidor, 1737-1753

Bernard Forest de Belìdor (ca 1697) was an expert in mathematics and hydraulics. Belidor was born in Catalonia between 1697 and 1698. His father was a French military officer serving in Spain, and Bernard's life was divided between militarism and science.

Belidor taught mathematics at the artillery school of La Fère and, in this position, wrote several technical manuals in the 1820s. He wrote several works, namely Nouveau Cours de mathematiques (including Lectures at La Fère, published in 1725), Le bombardier françois ou Nouvelle methode de jeter les bombes axec precision (1731), Traite des fortifications (1735), and his four-volume masterpiece Architecture hydraulique, published in Paris between 1737 and 1753.

The first volume of the treatise Architecture hydraulique was published in 1737, whereas the second was only two years later. Overall, this is a significant editorial effort: an encyclopedic treatise that thoroughly investigates topics related to hydraulic engineerings, such as the construction and operation of water pumps, water mills, pipelines, and dams. In particular, the first volume’s frontispiece contains an image with the machinery for raising water supply for fountains and canals in a landscape garden. The second volume consists of an introduction by the author and the contents are divided into two books (book III and book IV), which are in turn divided into chapters and sections. Book IV, chapter V-VI, is about gardens and fountain. Book III has thirteen chapters, where machines that exploit the expansion and condensation of air are discussed and the physical laws underlying the operation of pumps are presented. The fourth chapter contains a collection of the most relevant machines invented to lift water, and the next chapter a historical account of the development of hydraulic pumps. In this regard, Belidor offered a detailed explanation of the Marly Machine (designed in 1684), a hydraulic system that connected Versailles and Marly Castle with the Seine River. The treatise concludes with a section Privilege du roi.

It is well known that Belidor's works had a significant impact throughout Europe. His engineering knowledge was exported to Brazil by the Portuguese military, contributing to establishing one of the first engineering schools in South America. Likewise, in Spain his work was a landmark for engineers. For that, was certainly crucial the several translations made of this text. Extracts from the treatise Architecture hydraulique were also translated into Portuguese by the mathematician Manoel Jacinto Nogueira da Gama (1765 – 1847) in 1800. It is a volume published in Lisbon by Joao Procopio Correa da Silva. Charles Bossut’s treatise Recherches sur la construction la plus avantageuse des digueswas also entirely translated and included in the same book.

A French revised and expanded edition of the treatise Architecture hydraulique, and in particular of the first volume, was edited by Claude L. Navier in 1819 and published by F. Didot, while the first Italian translation dates back to 1832 by Luigi Masieri.

The treatise can be found at the National Library of Spain (BNE), the Portuguese National Library (BNP), the Biblioteca da Escola de Camino and the Biblioteca do Palacio Real.

Editions & Translators

  • The first volume of the treatise Architecture hydraulique was published in 1737, whereas the second only two years later. The whole four-volume work was published between 1737-57.

  • A second French edition was published in 1819. The title: Architecture hydraulique, ou L'art de conduire, d'élever, et de ménager les eaux pour les différents besoins de la vie. It was edited by the engineering and scientist Claude L. Navier and published by Firmin Didot, a member of a distinguished family of French printers.


[1] CORRADI M., From the «Architecture hydraulique» to the «Science des ingénieurs»: Hydrostatics and Hydrodynamics in the XIXth century, in Proceedings of the First international Congress on Construction History, Madrid, 2003, vol. 1, pp. 635-644.

[2] GINOVART L. J., La mecánica ilustrada en los ingenieros militares españoles. El proyecto de los almacenes de pólvora (1715-1798), in Informes de la Construcción, 2015, vol. 67, pp. 1-10.

[3] PASCHOARELLI L.C., SILVA, J.C.P., Contribuições científicas de Bernard Forest de Bélidor para o estudo e a organização do trabalho, in A evolução histórica da ergonomia no mundo e seus pioneiros, Editora UNESP, São Paulo 2010.

[4] TRAETTA L., Bernard Forest de Bélidor: Engineer, Manualist and Machine Historian, in Advances in Historical Studies, 2020, vol. 9, pp. 70-83.