Civil engineering is the design and construction of public works, such as dams, bridges and other large infrastructure projects. It is one of the oldest branches of engineering, dating back to when people first started living in permanent settlements and began shaping their environments to suit their needs.
Early engineers built walls, roads, bridges, dams and levees; they dug wells, irrigation ditches and trenches. As larger groups of people began living together in towns and cities, these populations needed reliable sources of clean water, the means to dispose of waste, a network of streets and roadways for commerce and trade, and a way to defend themselves against hostile neighbors.
Ancient civil engineering projects include the roads of the Roman Empire, the Great Wall of China, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde and Mayan ruins at Copan, Palenque and Tikal. Many early civilizations built monuments to their rulers or gods. These may have been simple mounds or truly remarkable achievements, such as the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, whose construction by pre-industrial societies remains mysterious. The names of the engineers who designed these wonders are lost to antiquity.
Today, the public is more likely to remember the names of great civil engineering projects than the names of the engineers who designed and built them. These include the Brooklyn Bridge (designed by John August Roebling and son Washington Roebling), the Hoover Dam (John L. Savage), the Panama Canal (John Frank Stevens) and the Golden Gate Bridge (Joseph Strauss and Charles Ellis). One notable exception is the Eiffel Tower, named after Gustave Eiffel, the French civil engineer whose company built it.