7 Wonders of the World: Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Mausolus was a satrap of the Persian Empire, he married his sister Artemisia II of Caria. He ruled at Halicarnassus for 24 years, expanding his territory to the south-west coast of Antatolia. Though his family originated from Halicarnassus and the  surrounding area, Mausolus admired the Greek way of life, spoke Greek and founded several cities of Greek design.

Mausolus built up Halicarnassus to be his capitol city, magnificent and safe from capture. There was a small canal that could easily be defended from warships, his palace was fortified and several walls and watch towers were built. He also had a Greek style temple built to Ares, the Greek god of war. The whole city was embellished in great works of art and gleaming buildings of marble; Mausolus and Artemisia paid for all this with huge amounts of tax money. On a near by hill, overlooking their great city, Artemisia planned a great tomb for her and her husband.

In 353 BC Mausolus died, leaving Artemisia to rule alone. In his honour she decided to build the greatest tomb she could for him and spared no expense. The tomb for Mausolus became so famous that the term “mausoleum” came about as a general for a tomb above ground.The structure was considered such a unique aesthetic triumph that it was included in the lists of the Seven Wonders of the World. 

Artemisia put a call out for the greatest artists in Greece to come and build the tomb. It was designed by by the Greek architects Satyros and Pythius of Priene. It stood at nearly 45 meters (148 ft) tall, but it wasn’t it’s size that made it a wonder, it was the high quality statues and sculptural relief that adorned each side. Each side was made by a different Greek sculptor: Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros (who supervised the building of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, another wonder of the world) and Timotheus. 

The Mausoleum was enclosed in a courtyard. The tomb sat on a stone platform, a stairway led up this flanked with stone lions. Along the outer walls of the platform stood many statues of gods and goddesses and on each corner stood a stone warrior on horseback guarding the tomb. The square tomb rose out of the platform covered in bas relief showing action scenes. These included the battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths (also depicted on the Parthenon metopes), and the battle of the Greeks against the Amazons, a legendary race of warrior women. 

The top section of the tomb had thirty six columns, ten per side, with each corner sharing two. Standing between each pair of columns stood a statue. Behind the columns was a great, cella-like, block to support the massive weight of the roof. The rook was pyramidal with 24 steps, on top of which stood a final statue group; a quadriga, a four hourse chariot in which stood images of Mausolus and Artemisia. A stone wheel of this chariot has been found, it measure 2 meters in diameter.

Several reconstructions of the whole structure exist however historians today still debate how the tomb would have looked from the scant evidence from the site and descriptions of ancient authors, particularly Pliny the elder. 

Artemisia only lived two years after her husband’s death. Their ashes were placed in the tomb before it was finished. However, according to Pliny the Elder, the craftsmen chose to remain and finish the structure after the deaths of their patron “considering that it was once a memorial of his own fame and of the sculptor’s art.” It was probably destroyed in an earthquake that shook the area between the 12th century (where it was still written about as a wonder) and 1402 when it was recorded as a ruin by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The knights used some of the stones from the ruin to build their castle, Bodrum.

(images from British Museum and http://www.livius.org/ha-hd/halicarnassus/halicarnassus_mausoleum.html)

Notes

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