The tomb was built between 353 and 350 BC for Mausolus, a satrap (governor) in the Persian Empire. His wife (who was also his sister) was also buried there.
In the fourth century BC, Halicarnassas (modern day Bodrum) was the capital of a small kingdom on the modern-day Turkish coast. When the ruler of the kingdom died, his son, Mausolus, took control and extended the kingdom’s territory, ruling their lands for 24 years. Mausolus greatly admired the Greek way of life and government, and decided to build a new capital in the Greek tradition; a city safe from marauders and striking in appearance. This city was Halicarnassus.
The city sprung up around the harbour, with a huge fortified palace, watchtowers, a Greek-style theatre and temples.
After her husband’s death in 353 BC, Artemisia was left to rule alone. She commissioned a tomb to house her husband - and this tomb became so famous that Mausolus’s name is now used to describe all grand tombs: Mausoleums. The finest artists and sculptors of the time were employed and the tomb erected on a hill overlooking the city.
The tomb was still unfinished when Artemisia died two years later. Her remains were placed inside along with the sacrificial remains of a large number of dead animals.
The Mausoleum stood watch over Halicarnassas for many years. Even after the city was sacked it stood, untouched, over the city’s ruins for sixteen centuries. It’s not known when the Mausoleum fell to ruin, but it’s suspected it was severely damaged during an earthquake sometime in the 13th century. The stones were used by the Knights of St John to fortify their castles, and the remains of the Mausolus and Artemisia were plundered along with any remaining treasure. Much later, the building’s bas reliefs were removed by Lord Stratford of Redcliffe in 1846, and archaeologist Charles Thomas Newton took several statues and reliefs back to the British Museum.
Today, you can still see the Mausoleum’s polished stone and marble blocks built into the walls of Bodrum Castle, where they were placed by the Knights of St John.
At the original Mausoleum site, only the foundation remains, and there’s a small museum to peruse. Unfortunately you need to head to London, to the British Museum, to see the surviving relics of the Mausoleum, which include sculptures and friezes.
There have been moves to improve the Mausoleum site in Bodrum; after all, it’s an important historical site and as the town grows and more and more Bodrum villas are built and more tourists arrive it is well worth developing this ancient location.