Mausoleum of Halicarnassus: A Marvel of the Ancient World

In a world where the word “mausoleum” is synonymous with the final resting place of the departed, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus stands as a testament to both its namesake, Mausolus, and the ingenuity of ancient architecture. Located in modern-day Bodrum, Turkey, this structure has earned its place as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.’ Surviving over a millennium and a half, it rivaled the Great Pyramid of Giza in terms of longevity before meeting its eventual demise.

Mausolus: The Man Behind the Monument

The Mausolus Statue exhibited at the British Museum in 2012. ( Source )

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was a tribute to Mausolus, the second ruler of Caria from the Hecatomnid dynasty, who passed away in 353 BC. According to Greek tradition, Mausolus was entitled to receive cultic honors and a tomb in the central square of his city, which was re-established under his rule. Interestingly, this project was spearheaded by Mausolus’ own sister and widow, Artemisia II, a woman of remarkable strength and dedication.

Architectural Marvels and Cross-Cultural Influences

A reconstructed section of the Nereid Monument in Xanthos, Lycia. ( Source )

The Mausoleum’s design drew inspiration from the Nereid Monument of Lycian Xanthos, dating back to the early 4th century BC, albeit on a grander scale. Greek architects Satyros and Pytheos, at the invitation of Artemisia, played a pivotal role in shaping the monument. Sculptors such as Byraxis, Leocharis, Timotheus, and Scopas of Paros were tasked with adorning the structure with intricate decorations. This collaborative effort resulted in a wonder that seamlessly blended elements from three different cultures: Greek, Lycian, and Egyptian.

Perched atop a hill overlooking the city, the Mausoleum was designed for maximum visibility. A stone platform served as its foundation, surrounded by a courtyard featuring statues of gods and goddesses. Stone lions flanked the flight of stairs leading to the top of the platform, where the Mausoleum itself stood. Though constructed with bricks, it was clad in white Proconnesian marble, bestowing upon it a resplendent appearance.

The Mausoleum’s Tripartite Structure

An intricate segment of the Amazon Frieze from the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus, featuring battles between Amazons and Greeks, captured in 2012 by Carole Raddato. ( Source )

The Mausoleum’s structure can be divided into three distinctive sections. The bottom third consisted of a square block adorned with relief sculptures, including scenes from Greek mythology such as the Centauromachy and the Amazonomachy. The middle third showcased a set of 36 Ionic columns, each flanked by statues and reinforced by a solid block to support the roof. The uppermost section culminated in a step pyramid with 24 levels, topped by a sculpture of Mausolus and Artemisia riding a four-horsed chariot.

Artistry and Illusions: The Mausoleum’s Ingenious Design

Photographic images of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus site taken in 2013. ( Source )

The Mausoleum’s construction was not just an engineering marvel but also a testament to craftsmanship. One remarkable feature, attributed to Greek architect Pytheos, was the use of optical illusions to create an illusion of grandeur and symmetry. For instance, the columns in the middle section were not evenly spaced; they gradually decreased in distance towards the top, employing the optical trick of entasis to make them appear straight.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was not just a magnificent tomb; it was a living work of art, showcasing the extraordinary skills and craftsmanship of the ancient world. Its design, which seamlessly integrated elements from diverse cultures, and its colossal size made it one of the most awe-inspiring structures of its era.

The Tragic Demise of a Wonder

While the Hecatomnid dynasty met its end with the conquest of Alexander the Great, the Mausoleum stood the test of time. However, during the 13th century, a series of earthquakes shook its foundation, causing the columns to crumble and the stone chariot to crash. By the early 15th century, only the base remained recognizable. Subsequently, in 1522, rumors of a Turkish invasion led the Knights of St. John to use the Mausoleum’s stones to fortify their castle in Bodrum. Additionally, many sculptures were ground into lime for plaster, but some of the finest pieces were salvaged and placed in Bodrum Castle, and later, some of these were acquired by the British Museum.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus: A Rediscovery

The location of the Mausoleum was lost to time until the 19th century when Charles Thomas Newton, working for the British Museum, embarked on a quest to uncover its remnants. He successfully located walls, a staircase, three corners of the foundation, sections of reliefs, and even a broken chariot wheel from the rooftop sculpture. These artifacts were transported to London, where they remain on display, though the Turkish authorities are actively seeking their repatriation. These remnants are the last vestiges of a once-spectacular monument that left the ancient world in awe.

A Glimpse into the Future

In 2017, it was announced that the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus will be revived through The Danish Halikarnassos Project. While restoration dates have yet to be confirmed, the resurrection of this ancient wonder will provide modern eyes with the opportunity to gaze upon at least two of the ancient world’s marvels once more.


The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, a marvel that blended architectural genius and artistic finesse, stood as a testament to Mausolus and the dedication of Artemisia II. Its demise may have been tragic, but the fragments that remain continue to captivate our imagination. With restoration on the horizon, the world may soon have the privilege of witnessing this ancient wonder once more.

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