Halicarnassus, better known as Bodrum, was the birthplace of unofficial first historian Herodotus. I found the city intriguing as a tourist destination for the origin story alone, but others appreciate this modern-day resort town in southwestern Turkey more for the vacationer’s paradise it has evolved into. It’s nestled against the Aegean, with stunning vistas, calm blue water, sun, sand, culinary delights (provided you enjoy seafood) and numerous historical treasures.
It’s also a hotspot for endless streams of early 20’s Londoners with an insatiable appetite for loud music and drunken escapades. Sadly, for my curmudgeonly nature, my hotel was in the dead center of such shenanigans for the first few days of the trip. Still, the English did give us the following, so it’s hard to get too bent out of shape over my temporary lack of sleep.
There was lots to see in Bodrum, and see lots I did, but the whole point of the excursion was to visit the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Built in the 4th century BC for the recently deceased King Mausolus, it was still minty fresh when Alexander the Great swept through the city on his way to discovering his lineage at the Temple of the Oracle of Amun in Siwa and conquering the remainder of the known world. It survived the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, standing tall for sixteen centuries before a series of earthquakes finally brought it low. Here’s a picture of the mausoleum in better times.
And here’s a photo today.
Yeesh. How did such greatness sink to such depths? Surely earthquakes alone couldn’t account for such wanton, reckless destruction. Is there perhaps something else we can blame? Why, the British Empire, of course! Charles Thomas Newton, sent by the British Museum, discovered the remnants of the mausoleum in the 1850’s and plundered the little that had not been yoinked by locals over the ages. Still, the English gave us the following, so I try not to get too bent out of shape about the occasional plundering.
This is wildly unfair to the Brits, actually, given the mausoleum had already been ravaged by the Knights of St. John in the late 15th century in the building of a fortress along the water, the Castle of St. Peter, which would later be named the simpler and more efficient Bodrum Castle. As if this indignity was insufficient, in an effort to fortify the castle against an imminent attack by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, they destroyed what was left of this most magnificent relic of ancient times, using the stone and marble to strengthen their defenses. These brilliant military tacticians then abandoned the castle without a fight two freaking days later. This is why the Knights of St. John have been a regular on my enemies list over the years.
Halicarnassus was the sixth of seven ancient wonders I’ve visited, only the Hanging Gardens of Babylon remain, but completing the set is problematic for two reasons. First, the likely location of #7 is currently in one of the less tourist friendly places in the world, and the second reason, the far more problematic of the two, is because there’s no proof the Gardens ever existed in the first place. Even so, I might make the journey to Iraq someday. I think it’d be fun to stalk the past, even if that past only ever existed in imagination. And why not? Mine is as good as any other.
The Myndos gate is only a few hundred meters from the ruins of the mausoleum. The story goes that Alexander the Great passed through the gate on his way into Halicarnassus, and by passed through, I mean he won a bloody and seemingly intractable battle before emerging victorious and subsequently burning everything and everyone in the city until naught but ashes remained, with the notable exception of the Mausoleum. Alexander had an appreciation for history and the great works, which is why I feel like the Knights of St. John would be on his enemies list, too.
Bodrum Castle, despite my grudge against the builders, makes for excellent wandering. Spectacular views from the parapets aside, the castle is an impressive museum and monument to the engineering and architecture of the latter days of the middle ages. The museum of underwater archaeology, housed inside the castle, contained the best of the exhibits, and some of the salvaged shipwrecks and associated artifacts date as far back as the 11th century AD. There was also the entirely appropriate amount of goofing off while touring the facilities, as the following photographs illustrate.
Turkey is a wonderland for ancient ruins, and driving up and down the coast from Istanbul provides many a good opportunity for additional sightseeing. Located in the Aydın province is the ancient city of Priene, built against the cliffs, old enough it used to overlook the sea, but things have shifted a bit over the years and it’s now inland. The quite impressive Temple of Athena was commissioned by Alexander the Great and a good portion of it still stands. There’s a very impressive Greek amphitheater as well, and the sheer size and elevation of the city’s ruins makes for a couple hours of good wandering.
Just outside Priene, Ferda and I stopped to rest at a great little café.
Not far from Priene is another ancient Greek city, Miletus, which has few relics or points of interest beyond the spectacular theatre.
We’ll finish up with the Temple of Appollo at Didyma, one of the largest temples of the ancient world, despite never being completely finished. Ah, the Greeks. So lazy.