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What was the 'Mausoleum at Halicarnassus'? - Part 6 of the 'Seven Wonderful Wonders' Series

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

There were seven wonders of the ancient world. Seven wondrous buildings that blew the socks off (Okay, probably not socks back then. Let's say sandals were getting blown off instead) anyone who saw them. In our ‘Seven Wonderful Wonders’ series, here on the Imagining History Blog, we’ll be checking out each of these marvels of human engineering and ingenuity. There’ll be a new article in the series every fortnight, so be sure to check back here regularly for your next history fun time fix.

We’ve already had a look at the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Colossus of Rhodes, The Temple of Artemis, The Golden Statue of Zeus, and The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. After such an epic journey, we’ve finally reached the penultimate wonder on our list: The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus!

A statue of our boy Mausolus.

Okay, first things first, what exactly even is a Mausoleum?

It’s kind of like a big sign. One that points to the tomb of a dead person loudly declaring ‘the body of someone very important is buried right here’.

A big sign?

Well, when I say a big sign, I mean a very grand and extravagant monument.

And this Mausoleum is in Halicarnassus? Just what is a Halicarnassus?

Well, there was an ancient kingdom called Caria, which is now in modern-day Turkey. In 377 BC, Caria was ruled by a fella name King Mausolus. He decided to build himself a brand-new spiffing capital city, dubbed Halicarnassus.

He also decided, seeing as how he was very awesome, he should have his very own tomb at the centre of the city. But a bog standard tomb wasn’t big or impressive enough for our man Mausolus.

He wanted everyone who lived in and visited Halicarnassus to know he was buried at its heart. So, he commanded that a stonking Mausoleum be built to show off his tomb. That way his legacy and fame could live on forever.

Statues from the Mausoleum, believed to be of Mausolus and Artemisia II. Photo courtesy Carole Raddato.

That’s very modest of him. Did he like his Mausoleum?

He never got to actually see it! A few years into its construction, Mausolus died from a rather severe case of death.

So the Mausoleum was never finished?

I didn’t say that. Thankfully, Artemisia II, Mausolus’ beloved wife, became ruler and continued the construction of the Mausoleum. It certainly proved to be an epic project, with no expense spared. Artemisia even brought in the finest artists from Greece to help decorate the tomb, including Scopas, the chap responsible for improving the Temple of Artemis.

Did she like the Mausoleum?

Nope, she died long before it was finished too!

Say what?!

I’m afraid so. Fortunately, despite the huge expense of the construction, the Mausoleum continued to be built, with ultimately Mausolus and Artemisia buried inside, together forever.

A model version of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus from the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology Photo by Jona Lendering

Aw, that’s nice! What did the Mausoleum actually look like then?

It was built on top of a hill, overlooking the entire city. The Mausoleum looked like a temple, mounted on an enormous stone plinth. It was encircled by an impressive thirty-six columns, which supported a huge roof, upon which were mounted fabulously detailed statues. These included Mausolus and Artemisia themselves, riding a chariot pulled by hour horses.

In fact, the whole Wonder was covered in statues, depicting gods, goddesses, and a humongous selection of twenty different lions (they must have really liked lions!). It was also covered in artwork, reliefs, and friezes. Reliefs are like a 3D comic strip and brought to life famous battles, showing both centaurs and Amazons in awesome action poses.

Sounds pretty impressive!

It really was!

Now, one thing I’ve learned during this Seven Wonderful Wonders series, is that a lot of the Ancient Wonders didn’t last for very long. Had the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus collapsed by the following Tuesday?

Bodrum Castle, made from bits of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus!

Not at all, the Mausoleum stood for centuries. It even survived the invasion of Alexander the Great and several pirate attacks during its long life.

Unfortunately, a number of nasty earthquakes in the fourteenth century brought much of the structure crashing to the ground. Then, around 1494, soldiers of a military order called ‘The Knights Hospitaller’ used the remains of the Mausoleum to do up one of their castles in the area. This castle was called Bodrum.

They even ground up some of the priceless sculptures to make plaster for it, the utter hoodlums!

I can’t go see the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus today then?

No, sadly not in its full glory but some of the foundations still remain. Also, Bodrum castle still stands, and some of the original bits of the Mausoleum can still be seen within it. Finally, the British Museum has many of the statues and reliefs on display, so, if you're in London some time, why not go and check them out?

A frieze from the Mausoleum depicting the Greek Hero Heracles tugging the hair of the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. Photo courtesy Carole Raddato


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