The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was built in what is now the modern resort of Bodrum on the Aegean Sea.
In Medieval times marble and polished stone from that vast monument were reused for a castle by the Knights Hospitaller, and a lot of the masterful sculpture eventually found its way to the British Museum.
There are clues from the city of Halicarnassus all over town, at the theatre, Myndos Gate and the site of that mausoleum.
Bodrum is on a craggy peninsula where bays with clear, glistening waters are sheltered between headlands.
Here you can divide your time between thrilling archaeology and a sun lounger by a shimmering cove.
1. Bodrum Castle (Castle of St Peter)
On a promontory east of Bodrum’s harbour stands Bodrum Castle, built in the beginning of the 15th century by the Knights Hospitaller.
This location has been fortified for more than 3,000 years and is the likely setting for the palace of Mausolus from the 4th century BCE.
One of many absorbing things about this building is that stonework from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was recycled for its walls, either turned into dust to make lime, or simply re-used.
The castle was an international project, with its four towers named for the people who built them: German, Italian, French and English.
The castle fell to Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century and became a prison in 1895.
2. Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology
Since the 1960s the castle has hosted a fascinating museum dedicated to the underwater finds made at Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern shipwreck sites around the Turkish Aegean.
This is the largest museum in Turkey devoted to this field, presenting a thrilling hoard of Mycenaean copper ingots and vases, Ancient Egyptian seals, royal Carian jewellery, Roman amphorae, Medieval Islamic glassware, a Spanish four-Real piece from the 16th century and loads more.
These pieces are spread throughout the castle’s historic interior and accompanied by interesting snippets, like for example, a chronology of the development of Amphorae.
The museum also features two reconstructed shipwrecks from the Bronze Age and Medieval period.
3. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
The magnificent tomb that first defined the term “mausoleum” was built in Halicarnassus for the Carian satrap Mausolus (d. 353 BCE). Set on a massive podium, this was a monument of incredible grandeur, 45 metres tall and with reliefs on each facade carved by one of the preeminent Greek 4th-century BCE sculptors, Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas of Paros and Timotheus.
It was toppled by earthquakes between 1100 and 1400, and was the last of the six ruined wonders of the ancient world to be destroyed.
Most of the marble blocks and polished stone became spolia for Bodrum Castle, but, however modest, the original site of the mausoleum is a humbling place because of what it represents.
Many of the finer sculptures were removed in the 19th century and have ended up in the British Museum, but until they’re returned the surviving reliefs, fluted columns and a stairway give a tantalising glimpse of what came before.
Also here is a small exhibition with a video breaking down the chronology of the mausoleum, amphitheatre and castle.
4. Theatre of Halicarnassus
A couple of streets up from the mausoleum site is the Greek-style theatre, constructed during the reign of Mausolus in the 4th century BCE and later enlarged by the Romans in the 2nd century CE.
Its architect had an eye for the spectacular, as the theatre has a stirring view out to the Aegean from its cavea.
In its heyday this venue could seat around 13,000 people, and enough survives today that it can be used as a stage for cultural events throughout the high season.
You can look at the excavated hillside to see where the cavea continued up the slope.
5. Zeki Müren Arts Museum
The coiffed singer and actor Zeki Müren (1931-1996) is a colossal figure in Turkish popular culture and spent much of his life, especially the last few years, here in Bodrum.
Müren starred in dozens of films and recorded 30+ albums, and his influence is hard to overstate.
After he died, his home on his namesake street in Bodrum was turned into a museum.
Müren had a Liberace-esque taste for the flamboyant, and while there’s lots of stage costumes and photographs to back this up, the home itself is pared-down and gives a touching impression of a man seeking a quiet life.
As for memorabilia there’s lots of jewellery, hi-fi equipment and paintings that he composed, while an English introduction at the entrance will bring you up to speed on Müren’s career.
6. Bodrum Deniz Müzesi (Maritime Museum)
Bodrum has been involved in shipbuilding since antiquity, and the industry was given a boost in the early 19th century when Ottoman warships were launched here.
When demand waned in the middle of 19th century, that shipbuilding knowhow was put to use building three-masted gulets (schooners) for trade, fishing and sponging.
In 2011, Bodrum’s maritime museum moved into the old bazaar building (bedesten) by the castle, and has scores of models for the various wooden boats built in Bodrum.
Much of what you see, including 6,000 shells from around the world, is from the personal collection of Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı (1886-1973), a Crete-born writer, exiled to Bodrum in 1925. He is nicknamed the “Fisherman of Halicarnassus”, and is credited with raising Bodrum’s profile and bringing it to the attention of the Turkish literati in the 20th century.
7. Bitez Beach
While the public beach in Bodrum is more than adequate, if you’re willing to travel a little you’ll come across some outstanding beaches within a few kilometres.
The Blue Flag Bitez Beach is a short way west, and regarded as one of the best on the entire peninsula for families with smaller children.
Shielded to the east by a long headland, Bitez Beach is a scallop-shaped bay with gravelly sand (bring flip-flops) and a big spread of shallow, warm and transparent water.
And like all the touristy beaches around Bodrum, the bay is lined with eateries, many of which rent out sun loungers with the price of a drink or two included, or for free with the price of a meal.
But in spite of all this business, the resort is far quieter than Gümbet and Bodrum around the headland.
8. Ortakent-Yahşi Beach
Some ten kilometres west of Bodrum proper is one of the longest beaches on the peninsula, at the place where two villages, Ortakent (east) and Yahşi (west) have formed a single municipality.
The two ends of the beach have a different character: Yahşi is oriented towards tourism and has restaurants and shops, as well as a jetty for boat excursions, while Ortakent, over the Uludere river inlet is more peaceful and backed by hotels and holiday rentals.
Come the high season, every inch of the crescent-shaped pebble beach will be covered with sun loungers and parasols.
Drinks are normally included in the rental price, and you can cool off wading out into the clear Aegean waters.
There’s also a strip of greenery edging the beach, used by for outdoor seating by bars and restaurants, and occasionally furnished with cabanas and hammocks among the palms.
High on the Bodrum Peninsula’s rugged spine are the ruins of the ancient Carian settlement of Pedasa.
You can hike to Pedasa from Bodrum’s Konacık, and the experience maybe a welcome antidote to resort life, climbing through maquis shrub, and hushed forest under the cover of pines, cedars and larches.
The ample shade means you could attempt this hike on a summer’s morning, if you bring plenty of water.
The evocative ruins at Pedasa are from between the 11th and 6th century BCE, and a recent excavation has brought to light a temple to Athena.
The site is spread across several hill-tops, giving you stunning 360° panoramas of the peninsula and Aegean.
10. Windmills of Bodrum
The Bodrum Peninsula is littered with quaint reminders of a time before tourism, dating back as far as the 1700s.
These windmills are in various states of repair and set high on ridges to catch the breeze.
The most convenient to Bodrum proper is a row of eight, along the peninsula between this resort and neighbouring Gümbet.
Whitewashed, these circular buildings stand out against the blues and browns of the land and sea beyond.
As much as anything the windmills are a vantage point where you can survey the clear turquoise waters of the bays, the sprawl of the resorts and the coniferous hills in all directions.
11. Bodrum Harbour
It’s fascinating to think that vessels have been docking at Bodrum Harbour, tucked snug behind the castle, for upwards of 3000 years.
On the west side of the harbour is the Milta Bodrum Marina, hailed as one of the most prestigious marinas on the Aegean.
This is a Blue Flag facility, with 450 berths, some filled by ostentatious super yachts.
For landlubbers the harbour with its wide quaysides, palms and eucalyptus trees is a prime place to mill around and watch the ferries come and go, particularly in the evening when the sunset are wonderful.
And along the street at the back there’s an unbroken string of restaurants and cafes taking advantage of these views.
The harbour is also where you’ll find those traditional three-masted gulets, built right here in Bodrum.
12. Bardakçı Koyu (Bardakci Cove)
On the east side of the headland with the windmills is a delightful little cove with pool-like waters.
The drawback to Bardakçı Koyu is that there’s no public beach, and you’ll have to pay for a sun lounger belonging to one of the three hotels that crowd the cove (about 50TL or $8.50 in 2020). The good news is that you can get there the scenic way, buy catching a water taxi across the bay from Bodrum Harbour, departing every ten minutes or so.
It’s a fun way to arrive, and when you get there you can swim in sparkling waters with soft sand underfoot and hardly a trace of seaweed.
13. Myndos Gate
The last vestige of the seven-kilometre walls of the Halicarnassus can be found in the west of Bodrum.
These defences were constructed in the 4th century BCE by Mausolus, the satrap of Caria, and the Myndos Gate was one of two monumental entranceways.
Although the stonework on the gate’s two towers is a modern interpretation, there’s a lot of archaeological interest, and vaulted tombs from the Hellenistic and Roman periods have been discovered nearby.
You can make out 50 metres of the surrounding ditch, known to have slowed down Alexander the Great’s capture of the city in 334 BCE.
Around the site are information plaques explaining its historical significance.
14. Midtown Shopping Centre
As a sign of the times, a plush mall has opened in Ortakent under ten kilometres west of Bodrum proper.
On a scorching day you may be ready for an air-conditioned behemoth like this.
At Midtown Shopping Centre are plenty of brands you’d expect from a European high street, like Marks & Spencer, Gap, L’Occitane, Mango, H&M, Yves Rocher and MediaMarkt.
There’s also a giant food court, where you might try out popular Turkish chains like Simit Sarayi, alongside worldwide fast food names like McDonalds, Burger King, Popeyes and Starbucks.
And like most malls, Midtown has a multiplex cinema showing Turkish and international movies, although these tend to be dubbed.
15. Full-Day Orak Island Boat Trip
Orak Island is in the Aegean east of Bodrum, looking back to a long, mostly uninhabited stretch of the peninsula.
You can visit on a day-long cruise through GetYourGuide.com.
After setting sail from Bodrum Harbour in late-morning the cruise will make a stop at the exquisite Red Bay, before dropping anchor at Orak Island Bay, where you can swim and snorkel in shimmering turquoise waters and laze on a white sandy beach.
Lunch is prepared on board and normally involves a fresh salad and grilled chicken.
And after departing the main bay, you’ll make two or three more swimming stops, and enjoy the views of the peninsula in the late afternoon light over a slice of melon and cup of Turkish tea.