Those who follow me, may recall that part of the year I live in Turkey on the Aegean coast about 150 miles south of Izmir. The advantage of my location is, that I am literally surrounded by some of the most awesome sites in Turkey, like Ephesus, Miletos or the Didim Apollo temple. All of which makes for nice daytrip. If I wish to dip my toes into ancient history, all I have to do is hop on a bus and be off.
South from where I live is another one of those sites, Bodrum. The modern town of Bodrum sits on top of what was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the mausoleum of Halikarnassus. The mausoleum was a tomb and something like the Taj Mahal in reverse: Built between 353 and 350 BC, the monument was ordered by Artemisa of Caria II, the wife and sister of Mausolos, a satrap of the Persian Empire.
So heartbroken was she after her husband’s death that she vowed to create the most splendid tomb to bury him in and remember him by and the result was a magnificent tomb, 45 meters high and decorated on four sides by the sculptures and carvings of the most famous Greek artists of her time. Ever since, huge tombs are referred to as mausoleums.
But, over the centuries, several devastating earthquakes first tumbled the columns, then the golden chariot on top and finally the entire structure and next to nothing is left today. More damage was done by the Crusaders at the end of the 15th century, when the basic structure of the mausoleum was still intact: they decided to built a massive castle to protect the important port of Bodrum and made use of the elaborately carved ‘rubble’ from the mausoleum. So did many other people and that’s why today you can see many colored marble pieces intermingled with ordinary bricks in the walls of quite a few houses in Bodrum and in the Crusader castle too.
The castle overlooking the port is huge and impressive, but what this article is really about is a curiosity: how often do you find a Museum of Underwater Archaeology in a medieval castle? Not often I guess, but that’s the case in the Bodrum Castle and the museum is one of a kind.
It’s a vast and beautifully displayed collection of artifacts and every day utensils as used in ancient Greece and all recovered painstakingly from the bottom of the sea. The museum gives you a rare view and insight of what life was like for the traders and fishermen who shipped their wares, mostly olive oil and wine in relatively small boasts all over the Mediterranean and how they lived on board ship.
The castle’s many rooms lend themselves to this kind of museum and each room has a different theme. Entering from the po rt level and climbing up through the castle wall, the path is dotted with urns and amphoras until you reach a higher level and the entrance to the museum proper.
Murals in vivid colors depict the making of wine and olive oil as well as how these people built their ships. Then you continue on and enter the different rooms. My absolute favorite is what I call the ‘glass room’: bathed in mystical light, the showcases contain vessels, jewelry, plates and.. a 5 inch long needle, made from blue and white glass and unbroken after thousands of years resting at the bottom of the sea.
There are also chunks of `raw`glass in the most vivid reds, blues and greens and fresh as if they were made yesterday ready to be crafted into more plates and glasses.
Another room contains a cut in half and reconstructed boat, complete with figures and depicting a scene of how people lived, slept and cooked in cramped conditions because most of the space was reserved for their wares.
There are many more and you can stroll around at your leisure. In the middle is an open courtyard with a tiny waterfall, tables and chairs from a café and shade is cast from hundreds of years old trees, populated by rare birds.
One of the finest museums I have ever visited because it so beautifully combines history, art and simply an enjoyable day out with spectacular views over the sea from the height of the castle.
The museum is open every day (except Mondays) from 9am to 7pm. Admission is TYL 20.