Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, August 20, 2012

An introduction to Caria, Turkey

It is quite amazing to realize how little we know about the ancient regions of Turkey. In Greece we are quite familiar with Attica and Macedonia, for instance, but in Turkey that knowledge is still very remote. Ask any of the millions of tourists who flock out around Antalya each year and close to none will be able to tell you that they actually are in ancient Pamphylia.

Well, I have been among those ignorant travelers for years, I must admit, as it is only since I intensively followed the trail of Alexander the Great after crossing the Hellespont (modern Dardanelles) that I became aware of the distinctive areas. They slowly fell into place: the Phrygians with their typical hats, the Lydians with King Croesus, and mostly Ionia with cities like Ephesus, Priene and Miletus. So my puddle of awareness slowly grew as I marched alongside Alexander the Great to the East.

This time I find myself in ancient Caria where Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum) once shone with its famous Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, unlike the situation in our modern times, clear borderlines generally did not exist and the limits of these more or less independent regions were rather vague. At times a river or a mountain range may have defined the limit, but otherwise many boarder-towns were often alternatively ruled by the strongest ruler on either side.

In any case, although I had visited several inland cities in southwestern Turkey that belonged to Caria I still had no clear image. Caria remained some abstract region. Strange, to say the least.

It is generally accepted that Caria covered the area from the Meander River in the North to today’s Lake Köyceğiz above Caunos in the South. The Carians curiously enough do not fit in with their neighbors in any way, neither culturally, nor linguistically. There are many theories about their origin but as they say themselves, they always lived on the mainland and always were called Carians. Homer in his Iliad mentions that they were “barbarous of speech” and it seems that even today’s Turkish in that region is labeled as being “harsh”. They were excellent seafarers though serving in many foreign armies and were for instance highly prized (and probably well paid) by the Egyptians. It is said that it were the Carians who taught the Greeks to put crests on their helmets and showed them how to affix handles on their shields, which till then were simply slung over the soldier’s shoulder.

Caria’s greatest ruler certainly was Mausolus, who lent his name to the word “mausoleum” after the tomb he built for himself. This is definitely a “must-see” for every visitor, yet what is left is a very disappointing sight, I would say. The ancient Mausoleum stood in the very heart of the city, but today’s site looks more like a bomb-crater amidst the low houses. I thoroughly admire the efforts of historians and archaeologists to bring these unique remains back to life, but it is asking a great deal of our imagination to picture this once so grandiose building on this spot. What is left here are only crumbs. For twenty centuries, the Mausoleum withstood many wars and natural disasters, but the repeated earthquakes turned out to be fatal and when the Knights of Rhodes arrived here in 1402 they found ready building material for the construction of their fortified castle, the very one that we call St John’s Fort in the middle of the harbour. The story goes that the Knights still found an untouched coffin in the base of the Mausoleum, but postponed opening it till the next day. Yet the next day, the tomb had been plundered. It is said that both Mausolus and his wife Artemisia were cremated, meaning that there could only have been an urn with their cremated remains but that is something we will never know for sure. The Knights were kind enough to save some of the friezes that were lying around, and used them to decorate the walls of said castle. This is where the British archaeologist, Charles Newton found them in the mid-19th century to recover them and ship them to the British Museum, together with part of a wheel (two meters in diameter) from the quadriga on top of the Mausoleum and the statues of King Mausolus and Queen Artemisia. In a later shipment he loaded the blocks of marble and green stones that were to be transhipped in Malta. This load however never left the Maltese docks because the stones were considered of less importance and amazingly enough, they were used in the construction of the city’s new docks in the 19th century (see Remains of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Malta?).

In spite of all the efforts made in recent decades, we are still not entirely sure what the Mausoleum really looked like. Although we have detailed descriptions from witnesses like Pliny and Vitruvius, they don’t give a good overall view, yet plenty of facts and figures to go by. A fact is that the most talented artists of that time were called upon. Skopas, Leochares (the same architect who built the famous Philippeon in Olympia for Alexander’s father!), Bryaxis and Timotheus were appointed to decorate one side of the Mausoleum each, assisted of course by hundreds of craftsmen of all kinds. The Mausoleum is said to have been 148 ft high, resting on a square base with a stairway leading to the first platform. The outer wall of that platform was decorated with statues of gods and goddesses, while on each corner a warrior on horseback was guarding the tomb. Op top of this platform stood an imposing square mass which was girded with a band of reliefs representing the battle of centaurs and Amazons with Greek soldiers. This section was then crowned by 36 columns, alternated with more statues, behind which a massive block supported the pyramidal roof where the quadriga with Mausolus and Artemisia was placed. During my last visit, it suddenly dawned on me that this Mausoleum has in fact close ties with the Pyramids in Egypt, as in both cases the actual tomb is hidden deep inside a massive stone construction.

Except for a few dozen of lost blocks and column drums nothing significant is left on the spot to see, with one single frieze that found shelter in the small museum next to the very ruins. For those who are really interested, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at St John’s Castle itself to locate the recuperated stones and column drums from the ancient Mausoleum in its walls. Finally, I would highly recommend a visit to the British Museum in London, to admire the magnificent statues of Mausolus and Artemisia, the horse head with its iron bit still in place, the lions that once watched over the lower staircase, and of course the many friezes created by the four great artists. (See my Photo Album) – were it only to make the (mental) picture complete.

Click on the Label Caria 2012 to read the full story


  1. The history of these places is captivating. It's a pleasure to visit them now and feel the energy!

  2. You are absolutely right talking about the energy still present in these antique sites!