One of the most remarkable buildings in antiquity was the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. It is known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. More importantly, only two of these seven wonders could somehow survive and still can be visited.
Its history goes back to times when Halicarnassus – today’s Bodrum – was a port city in Caria. When Persians took the control of the area in 386 BC, the brightest period of its history began.
Persians had a certain strategy for newly occupied lands. They were assigning a governor called “satrap” and giving him full authority over the territory. Although satraps were high level officers under direct command of the Persian Emperor, they were free in their local decisions related to internal affairs. Persians would never question or interfere their actions.
Satraps were usually tyrants who use their extensive power to block any attempt to develop free will among their people. One of the most powerful and cruel satraps controlling Caria was the leading character of our story; Mausolus.
Hecatomnus was Caria satrap between 395 BC and 377 BC. After his death, his oldest son Mausolus took over the throne and remained absolute ruler of Caria for 24 years.
The new satrap was a smart man. His addiction to power led him to develop aggressive strategies against his people and neighbours so that there were even a tax for men with long-hair. Needless to say, any opposition to his decisions was ending in a certain death.
While Mausolus was gaining great power, he never missed any opportunity to show his loyalty to the Persian King. He was cruel and determined. He used his strengths wisely and never showed tolerance to any weakness.
Under his father’s rule, the capital of Caria was Mylasa where we call Milas today. He was totally aware of the strategic advantages of Halicarnassus as a port city. After being the satrap, one of his first decisions was moving the capital to Bodrum.
He was an admirer of the Greek architecture. He hired the best Greek architects of his time and rebuilt the new capital. Halicarnassus turned into one of the most beautiful cities of its era. He personally managed the constructions and completed while he was still alive.
He thought he was above all other people so there was no way to get married with someone below him. This philosophy resulted in a marriage with his own sister, Artemisia II.
It sounds weird now but marriage between brothers and sisters was a usual practice in Carian Dynasty. In ancient Egypt, these type of marriages were also common. Pharaohs were claiming that they were Gods and it would be inappropriate to marry with a mortal, an ordinary woman for them. Although the similarities between Caria and Egypt rulers are obvious, historians couldn’t find an evidence to show the connection yet.
Anyway, Mausolus died in 353 BC. His wife Artemisia II took over the throne as the substitute of her husband and remained in reign two more years before her death in 351 BC.
Historians have two different theories related to the construction of Mausoleum.
Some believe that Artemisia II started to construct tomb of Mausolus after her beloved husband’s death as a tribute in 353 BC. The other theory says it was Mausolus himself who decided to build a monument for reaching out immortality and he started to build it in 355 BC. After his death, Artemisia II completed The Mausoleum.
Whatever the reason was, we know the tomb was still being constructed when Artemisia II died. The artists assigned to finish the monument didn’t give up after their employers’ deaths. They kept working on the monument for their own fame and honour.
The architect in charge of the Mausoleum was Pytheus. Four different sculptors were responsible for each of four sides. The ornaments on the east created by an artist from Athens; Skopas. Leochares, Bryaxis and Timotheus were working on the west, north and south directions respectively.
History books are quite certain that the monument had remained intact at least for 1,500 years. The first strike came in 1302, probably with an earthquake with magnitude of 10. The building took a considerable damage but there were much more in its destiny.
When the Knights of St. John came to Halicarnassus for building a castle, tomb of Mausolus was partly ruined. The Knights used blocks and archaeological fragments of the Mausoleum to complete the job in Bodrum Castle. In his journal, the architect of the Knights Hospitaller Heinrich Schlegelhold wrote “we destroyed, we shattered and we burned the Mausoleum”.
British Museum sent an archaeologist to search for ruins of Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in 1852. He had no idea where to find it. After a while he finally found some reliefs, statues and marble blocks which belongs to the monument. He sent the reliefs and statues back to British Museum.
The marble blocks must have looked like unimportant to him so he sent them to Malta in 1857 to be used in a dock construction for the Royal Navy. The dock can still be visited but the blocks are hidden from the eyes, submerged into the sea at Grand Harbour.