Want to know where the word "mausoleum" comes from? Join us for a visit to the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and you will see!
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was a magnificent tomb built between 353 and 350 BC in Halicarnassus, known today as Bodrum in South-Western Turkey. It was built for King Mausolus, Persian satrap of Caria who died in 353 BC. He had planned an elaborate tomb for himself and the tomb became so famous that Mausolus's name is now the eponym for all stately tombs in the word "mausoleum" and it truly deserved its place as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The mausoleum was designed by two Greek architects, Satyros and Pythias of Priene. It was 45 m in height, adorned with reliefs by four Greek sculptors, Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopa of Paros and Timotheus. The mausoleum was such an aesthetic triumph that it became listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!
The tomb was erected on a hill overlooking the city in an enclosed courtyard where the tomb sat on a stone platform. A stairway flanked by stone lions led to the top of the platform with outer walls decorated with gods and goddesses. At each corner, stone warriors mounted on horseback guarded the tomb. The marble tomb rose in the centre of the platform to one-third of the Mausoleum's height. It was covered with bas-reliefs showing the battle of the centaurs with the Lapiths and Greeks in combat with the Amazons. On the top of the tomb there were thirty six slim columns with each corner sharing one column between two sides; rose for another third of the height. Standing between each pair of columns there was a statue.
The mausoleum was the last of the old world wonders and it would be wonderful to see all that with our own eyes but unfortunately the mausoleum was destroyed by successive earthquakes from the 12th to the 15th century. We do not know exactly when the Mausoleum came to ruin but Eustathius of Thessalonica wrote in his commentary of the Iliad in the 12th century that “it was and is a wonder". Thus, some scholars have concluded that it was ruined, possibly by an earthquake, between this period and 1402, when the Knights of St John of Jerusalem arrived and recorded that it was in ruins.
What we do know and, actually, can see, is that after the fall of the mausoleum, many stones from the ruins were used to fortify the Bodrum Castle (see our review!) and the bas-reliefs were used to decorate it. At the original site today, only the foundations and some broken sculptures are left for us to see. In addition to the Bodrum Castle, if you go to Istanbul, you might also wish to visit the Archaeological Museum (see our review!), too, and you will see a statue of a lion near the entrance. This is the only whole piece saved in Turkey from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
Much of the information that has been gathered about the Mausoleum and its structure has come from the Roman polymath Pliny the Elder who wrote about the architecture and its dimensions: the mausoleum was 19 metres north and south, shorter on other fronts, 125 metres perimeter, and 11.4 metres in height, surrounded by 36 columns.
As early as in 1857, the British Museum (see our review!) led an expedition that discovered what was left of the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, and when you arrive at the site, you will see that excavations and research still continue today. There is a small museum building that tells the story of the mausoleum and it is worth visiting, at least so that you can say that you have been on the site of one of the old world's wonders!
There is a very small gift desk selling postcards, guidebooks and cold drinks. You can sip your drink sitting on the lovely benches around the museum area and enjoy the company of the museum cat before you move on to see the Zeki Müren museum or the Bodrum Castle.
There are clean loos that can also accommodate a wheel chair and it is easy to roll around the site in a wheel chair, other than going down the pit in the middle of the site.
Halicarnassus Mausoleum, Bodrum