A while back a friend of mine decided he no longer wanted his fishtank. Being the good friend I am I told him I would be more then happy to take it off his hands. ;) It's something I've always wanted to do. So I ended up with a 80 gallon bowfront tank for my first tank. Gotta love it. All the tanks I've had before were just small 5 - 10 gallon goldfish killers so I wanted to do some reading and learning before I set this one up. Well let me tell you I was rather surprised at how much I needed to learn... So now I have a general clue (thanks to the good people at forums like this one) and I started thinking of what I really wanted to do and how to set it up. I knew I wanted something over the top that wasn't just some sand and plastic plants. I very much like the old ruin look so I knew I wanted something like the Greek/Roman/Atlantis ruin type theme. I looked at every type of aquarium decorations you can think of and I didn't like most of them.

Through all my digging and looking at other setups I found all kinds of these styrofoam backgrounds and knew this was it. My first thought was my god this is going to be hard as hell... I could never do something like that. I was shocked to find out how easy this was to actually do. If I can do this, anyone can. The great thing is that there is no real wrong way to make this. It's all up to you an what it looks like. The best part is how cheap most of the materials are compared to the cost of high end decorations.

One thing I did that I seriously do NOT suggest people do, is make this without your tank around like I did. Your tank will be your greatest asset to how things will fit and come together. What I did was very impatient and probably not the smartest thing to do. So now that everyone is asking "why did you then?"... I was lucky enough to have every dimension you could think of for the tank. I made my friend measure everything for me. Outside, inside, and right down to the slots in the hood for the filters. I have the filters here so I was able to measure where the down tubes will be and anything else either coming into or out of the tank. I took a lot of time making drawings and rough sketches complete with dimensions where everything in the tank will be and was sure to give myself a couple inches or 'wiggle room' in any given direction. So when I started making this, as much as the original background drawing changed through the project, I still knew where my boundaries were. That was the only part of this project that remained constant. (and if my friend is off on his measurements Iím going to beat him to death with this background) Even though I may be a anal mechanical design engineer and I'm quite confidant my measurements will be fine, I strongly suggest you wait for the tank. Unless you are an overly impatient engineer that doesn't mind taking chances like me... ;)

So with that... lets build something!

Here is all the stuff I bought for this.
--3 3" paintbrushes, 3 2" paintbrushes, and two boxes of quality toothpicks from the Dollar Store for $1-2 bucks each
--4 sheets of 12" x 18" x 1" styrofoam from Michael's for $35. you can get this stuff from just about any craft store
--4 pack of GE Silicone I from Lowes for $15.
--60 pound bag of ready to use Quikrete concrete mix, concrete coloring, concrete acrylic fortifier, and a large can of Great Stuff expanding spray foam for about $30 from Home Depot

The other things you'll need:
A good utility knife for cutting the styro, a caulking gun, a file or heavy grit sand paper and a propane or butane torch for shaping, a bucket for mixing the concrete, and a measuring cup. (hint here... donít use a the kitchen ones unless you want your other half hunting you down. The coloring and fortifier will kill the cup... I used a big plastic cup from McDonalds and drew some lines on it at different measurements)

This is where it started... Like I said, I pretty much had a set plan of what I wanted and the space I had available to me... I just started putting things together. I started with 6x18 strip and put a 6x6 square at each end and a couple in the middle. I used the toothpicks, about 1 every inch or so, to hold it all together.

This gave me the first level and the caves. Then I used one of the full sized sheets and toothpicked that to the back of the box I just made for my backwall and just cut it at an angle I thought looked cool. Next I took another 6x18 piece and attached that to the front. This would soon become the front entrance of the caves. From the scrap of the back piece I cut out some skinny strips for the pillars and a 4x8ish sized piece for the second level. I put the second level at a bit of an angle. I had seen this done a couple other projects and it works well for holding sand or gravel in place after if you wanted to do something like that. Personally I thought it also made it look more "ruin-like".
Now I had what looked like a crooked bookshelf.