How the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World Work

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Many of the wonders fit into some architectural or artistic style. The Mausoleum boldly defies categorization. Its style was what some might call "busy" or "too much." There's a reason for that. While the mausoleum was intended as a memorial, after its commissioner died, it became a showcase for competing artists to exhibit their greatest work. To that end, the mausoleum became a mishmash of marble sculpture, carving and columns.

The word mausoleum comes from King Mausolus, the Persian king of Caria, for whom the temple was built. He ruled in the fourth century A.D. in Halicarnassus, now modern-day Bodrum, Turkey. Mausolus held an unremarkable reign. He married his sister, Artemisia, who loved him very deeply. She was heartbroken by his death, and one legend says that she went so far as to mix his ashes with water and drink them to mourn Mausolus [source: History Channel].


To honor her brother and husband, Artemisia commissioned a grand mausoleum for his remains. She elected the architect Pythius to design it and hired four sculptors to embellish it (that's one sculptor per side -- Pythius sculpted the crowning sculpture for the apex of the mausoleum): Scopas, Bryaxis, Leochares and Timotheus [source: Princeton].

A tourist walks through the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Bodrum, Turkey.
Yoray Liberman/Getty Images

A hilltop with a view of the city and the bay was chosen for the mausoleum's location. Work began in 353 B.C. The mausoleum towered 140 feet (45 meters) in the air with a base 99 feet (32 meters) high; a 24-step, 22 feet (7 meters) tall pyramid; and a crowning statue of 19 feet (6 meters). The ancient historian Pliny wrote that the perimeter of the mausoleum was 440 feet (134 meters) [source: Princeton]. More modern excavations led by a Danish team from 1966-1977 revealed that it was probably 100 by 120 feet (30 by 36 meters) with 36 supporting columns.

The queen never saw her husband's monument completed. She died just two years after Mausolus and was buried with him. However, work continued on the mausoleum because the artists wanted to complete their projects. These included Pythius' sculpture of Mausolus and Artemisia in a chariot led by four houses; friezes depicting the Greek war with the Amazons; various races and wars between Lapiths (the people of ancient Thessaly) and centaurs (mythical creatures that are half-human, half-horse); as well as other sculptures. Today, some remnants of these sculptures and friezes are in the British Museum.

In the 1400s, earthquakes shook the foundations of the mausoleum, and it slowly crumbled. Around 1494, the Knights of St. John of Malta used the temple's remains to strengthen their castle. They also burned marble columns to create lime mortar.

Excavations of the mausoleum turned up some very interesting things. In 1522, Charles Guichard found Mausolus and Artemisia's burial chamber. It contained an alabaster sarcophagus -- but mysteriously, no bodies. The Danish team that explored the site in the late 1960s found remains of eggs, doves, oxen and sheep that were probably offered to the king and queen as food for the afterlife.

In the next section, we'll travel back to Greece to examine the giant Colossus.