Wearing her magnificent crown, Ada, Princess of Caria, looked over her town unfazed. She lived in the age of Alexander the Great and succeeded in the difficult task of keeping her fortress and her reign out of his clutches by means of clever diplomacy.
The history of Bodrum includes several such powerful women. Known originally as Halicarnassus the city was influential under the rule of the Persian Empire from the 5th century BC onward. It flourished under the rule of Mausolus and his wife Artemisia II, who dedicated energy to developing it, paving the streets and squares, building houses and erecting a massive fortified palace along the harbour.
Following the death of Mausolus in 353 BC, his widow ordered the construction of a grand hilltop tomb to honour her late husband. This magnificent structure, known as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, combined columns rendered in classical Greek style with a pyramid-shaped roof evocative of Egyptian architecture.
Upon completion, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus not only became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but it also gave rise to the term ‘mausoleum’, used to this day to describe monumental tombs built above ground level.
By 344 BC, Artemisia and Mausolus’ brother and successor Idrieus had also died, leaving his wife and sister Ada to rule as the Satrap of Caria until 340 BC. Even after she was dethroned, Ada remained a crucial figure in the region. When Alexander the Great reached the city gates in order to conquer Caria, Ada’s strategic move was to formally adopt him as her son. This effectively secured her position as Queen until her death, and only then did the rule of the area finally pass to Alexander the Great.
Amphorae at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, source: Flickr/Benkamin Claverie
Although the Hecatomnid dynasty and their rule came to an end with Ada, their greatest achievement – the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus – remained the city’s symbol for centuries. By the early 15th century, however, the gigantic monument had suffered a series of earthquakes that shattered its columns and left only its base intact. Yet even in a state of ruin, the Mausoleum proved invaluable to the Knights of Rhodes, the successors of the Hospitallers of St John.
In the early 15th century, the Knights of Rhodes built the Castle of Saint Peter, now simply known as Bodrum Castle, at the tip of the peninsula. Historical records show that some components such as marble columns and reliefs from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus were used during the earliest construction of the castle. The other remaining portions of the Mausoleum were gradually incorporated into the castle during additional fortifications added in 1494 and 1522. Archaeologists have also discovered sculptures also believed to come from the Mausoleum that were added to castle as decoration between 1505 and 1507.
During the 15th century, the Knights of Rhodes and Bodrum Castle came under attack from the Ottomans twice, in 1453 and again in 1480 under Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. In June 1522, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent brought a massive force to the island of Rhodes to oust the knights. Following a six-month siege, the knights were defeated and allowed to withdraw, first to Sicily and then to Malta.
Bodrum Castle, Harvey Barrison
After becoming part of the Ottoman Empire, Bodrum Castle was used for different purposes throughout the centuries, first as a mosque, then a military base, a prison, an Italian garrison and, finally, as the present-day Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.
The museum is a great place to start discovering more about the story of Bodrum. The famed Uluburun shipwreck, dating back to the 14th century BC, one of the oldest and best preserved historical shipwrecks to have been excavated, is a must-see exhibit. You can also see the Secret Museum of Healing in the Snake Tower, the dungeon built by the Knights of St. John, a 4th century BC image of Princess Ada as well as her wonderful jewellery, plus many amphorae and artefacts that illustrate the heritage of the city.