The Mausoleum, Bodrum, Turkey

Last Updated on May 7, 2019

King Mausolus, Persian satrap of Caria (377-353 BCE), thought he was a big deal. So did his wife (who was also his sister) Artemisia.

After the king’s death, Artemisia commissioned the kingdom’s most prominent architects and sculptors to design and build a funerary monument to her husband-brother that would eclipse all others. And so it did.

So grand was the Mausoleum that it was numbered among the Seven Wonders of the World, and lent its name to any and every grand funerary monument built anywhere in the world during the two millennia following its construction.

Several centuries later, the fashion for mausolea caught on with the Romans, who built them along roads and at places like Hierapolis (Pamukkale), where you can see them still.

There’s not much left of the original Mausoleum.

In the early 1400s, the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodesenlarged and strengthened their Castle of St Peter. In need of cheap, ready building materials, they spied the Mausoleum close by, admired it for a time, then broke it to pieces and used the pieces in the castle’s rubble walls, or crushed the marble into lime for mortar.

By papal decree of 1409, those who worked on the castle were guaranteed a place in heaven (though not, perhaps, in the hearts of historic preservationists).

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Bodrum, Turkey
Here’s what it may have looked like when new.

In the early 1500s, what was left of the decorative stone from the Mausoleum (not much) was used to embellish the castle.

In 1522, what remained of the stone from the Mausoleum was crushed and burnt to make lime to strengthen the castle for defense against an anticipated attack by the armies of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent.

The sad irony here is that the knights knew they would lose and have to abandon the castle (Süleyman had a b-i-g army), but chivalric honor required them to put up a good fight.

They lost, and left the castle forever.

A few bits of art from the Mausoleum have survived. In 1846 Lord Stratford Canning, British ambassador to the Ottoman sultan, obtained permission to take a dozen marble reliefs, some stone lions and a stone leopard, to the British Museum, where they remain.

All this is explained in exhibits in a shelter next to the site. Plaster copies of the 12 marble reliefs are also on display.

The Mausoleum Museum (or Mausoleion), on Turgutreis Caddesi at Saray Sokak (map), is open from 08:00 am to 17:00 (5 pm), closed Monday. Admission costs TL8.

—by Tom Brosnahan

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