The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

One of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, One of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A print from Wonders of the Past, Volume I, 1933-1934. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was a large and ornate mausoleum built both to honor and hold the remains of Mausolus of Caria. When Mausolus died in 353 BCE, his wife Artemisia ordered the construction of this vast structure in their capital city, Halicarnassus (now called Bodrum) in modern Turkey.  Ultimately, both Mausolus and Artemisia were buried inside.

The Mausoleum, considered one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, retained its grandeur for nearly 1,800 years, until earthquakes in the 15th century destroyed part of the structure.

Eventually, nearly all of the stone was taken away to be used in nearby building projects, particularly for a Crusader castle.

Who Was Mausolus?

Upon the death of his father in 377 BCE, Mausolus became the satrap (a regional governor in the Persian Empire) for Caria. Although only a satrap, Mausolus was like a king in his realm, ruling for 24 years.

Mausolus was descended from the indigenous herdsmen of the area, called Carians, but appreciated Greek culture and society. Thus, Mausolus encouraged the Carians to leave their lives as herdsmen and embrace the Greek way of life.

Mausolus was also all about expansion. He moved his capital city from Mylasa to the coastal city of Halicarnassus and then worked on a number of projects to beautify the city, including building a large palace for himself. Mausolus was also politically savy and was thus able to add several nearby cities to his realm.

When Mausolus died in 353 BCE, his wife Artemisia, who also happened to be his sister, was grief stricken.

She wanted the most beautiful tomb built for her departed husband. Sparing no expense, she hired the very best sculptors and architects that money could buy.

It is unfortunate that Artemisia died just two years after her husband, in 351 BCE, not seeing the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus completed.

What Did the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus Look Like?

Built from about 353 to 350 BCE, there were five famous sculptors that worked on the exquisite tomb.

Each sculptor had a portion that they were responsible for -- Bryaxis (north side), Scopas (east side), Timotheus (south side), and Leochares (west side). The chariot on top was created by Pythis.

The structure of the Mausoleum was made up of three parts: a square base on the bottom, 36 columns (9 on each side) in the middle, and then topped by a stepped pyramid that had 24 steps. All of this was covered in ornate carvings, with life-size and larger-than-life statues abounding.

At the very top was the piece de resistance -- the chariot. This 25-foot-high marble sculpture consisted of standing statues of both Mausolus and Artemisia riding in a chariot pulled by four horses.

Much of the Mausoleum was made out of marble and the entire structure reached 140 feet high. Although large, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was known more for its ornate sculptures and carvings. Most of these were painted in vibrant colors.

There were also friezes that wrapped around the entire building. These were extremely detailed and included scenes of battle and hunting, as well as scenes from Greek mythology that included such mythic animals as centaurs.

The Collapse

After 1,800 years, the long-lasting Mausoleum was destroyed by earthquakes that occurred during the 15th century CE in the region.

 During and after that time, much of the marble was carried away in order to build other buildings, most especially a Crusader fortress held by the Knights of St. John.  Some of the elaborate sculptures were moved into the fortress as decoration.

In 1522 CE, the crypt that for so long had safely held the remains of Mausolus and Artemisia was raided. Over time, people forgot exactly where the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus had stood. Houses were built on top.

In the 1850s, British archaeologist Charles Newton recognized that some of the decorations at Bodrum Castle, as the Crusader fortress was now called, could have been from the famous Mausoleum. After studying the area and excavating, Newton found the site of the Mausoleum. Today, the British Museum in London contains statues and relief slabs from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

  

Mausoleums Today

Interestingly, the modern word "mausoleum," which means a building used as a tomb, comes from the name Mausolus, for whom this wonder of the world was named.

The tradition of creating mausoleums in cemeteries continues around the world today. Families and individuals build mausoleums, both large and small, in their own or others' honor following their deaths.  In addition to these more common mausoleums, there are other, larger mausoleums that are tourist attractions today.  The world's most famous mausoleum is the Taj Mahal in India.