Ancient Greek Architecture and the Greek Seven Wonders

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Olympia Zeus Temple Restoration
The word "architect" comes from the Greek word for master carpenter. "Tecture" means a dwelling or building. Most of the monuments and temples that remain today were made of marble or stone. In their time they were painted on the outside.

Unlike Egyptian temples which were made for a few select people to see from the inside Greek temples were constructed for everyone to enjoy from the outside. Greek architecture was oriented towards outdoor monuments and used post-and-lintel architecture while the Romans were oriented towards interior spaces, supported by Romans arches. The Greeks used the arch, but they found its shape so unappealing they used in mainly sewers. Many great works of European and American architecture are based on Greek architecture.

Greeks didn't appreciate nature for its own sake, it was something to be used. Mountains were not something to be climbed for a view, they were the home of gods, trees provided shade and plants gave food and drink. Beautiful places were often littered with shrines. Strabo wrote: "The whole tract is full of shrines to Artemis, Aphrodite, and the Nymphs...there are numerous shrines of Poseidon on the headlands by the sea."

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Ancient Greek architects strove for the precision and excellence of workmanship that are the hallmarks of Greek art in general. The formulas they invented as early as the sixth century B.C. have influenced the architecture of the past two millennia. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Generally, when people speak of “Greek architecture” it is usually “public” architecture that they have in mind — temples, theatres, market-places, gymnasia, commemorative structures, and given the propensity of the ancient Greeks for war, fortifications. After all, as Plato suggested, war is the natural state of mankind. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Minoan and Mycenaean Architecture, See Minoans and Mycenaeans Under History

Features of Greek Architecture

20120222-Olympia ZeusTemple Model_of_ancient_Olympia.jpg
Zeus temple model
Large houses, temples and tombs today have a similar plan — with a main court, hall and private rooms — as their counterparts in ancient Greece. Doric and Ionic are the two most well known styles of Greek architecture.

A quick review of some Greek architectural terms: As you look at the front of a Greek building the lintel is the part of the building held up by columns. The frieze is in between roof and the lintel, and it can either be filled with statues and bas-reliefs or composed of alternating trigylphs (little columnlike facades) and metopes (unornamented spaces). The long triangular part of roof above the frieze is the pediment.

Thick, muscular Doric columns have a plain and simple capital. The Parthenon is considered the quintessential Doric structure. More "feminine" Ionian columns are more slender and have declarative scroll-shaped capitals. Corinthian columns, which are an adaption of Ionian columns, have a flowery top. The side corners of the columns themselves are composed of a long shaft with a capital at the top and a base at the bottom.

As a general rule, every city was fortified with the extent and nature of the fortifications being influenced by natural landscape features. It was only a state such as Sparta, whose reputation preceded it, or a poorer community with little worth stealing that didn’t have substantial city walls. The main defensive structure was an encircling wall whose length was interrupted at strategic intervals by round or square towers. The thickness of the wall and the height, shape and placement of towers were important considerations. Usually the walls and towers were built of limestone. Vertical slits in the tower walls allowed archers to fire their arrows down upon attackers. |

History of Greek Architecture

Doric order

Although nearly all forms of modern architecture can be traced back to Greek architecture no one knows how it evolved. Clay models of temples from the 8th century B.C. depict house-like buildings with steeped pitched roofs and columns only at the entrance and rear. Greek architecture developed from the wood and mud brick building of pre-classical Greece and was influenced by Egyptian architecture (columns), Minoans (column design) and Mycenaean architecture (the floor plan). The design for the Mycenaean royal hall provided the basic design on which Greek temples were based.

One of the great contributions of Greek architecture was putting sculpture and bas-reliefs on the pediments which the Mycenaeans had left empty. The Egyptian decorated some of their temples with sculpture but mostly in the form of shallow reliefs. The Greeks raised this form of expression to an artform.

Up until the 7th century B.C., Greek temples were made of wood. Stone became the building material of choice when wood columns were found to be incapable of bearing roofing tiles. Marble was most often used because it was found everywhere in Greece and Asia Minor. Most of the marble was quarried only about ten miles away from the site of the monument.μ

According to the Canadian Museum of History: From early times, the open air altar played an important role in worship. The outdoor aspect was a practical consideration. Sacrificing 100 head of oxen, as happened on festive occasions such as at the Olympic Games, with its inevitable blood and smoke, was an activity best carried out in the open air. But, influenced by the East- particularly, Egypt- temples began to be seen as appropriate structures to house the image of a deity. That usage dictated a level of quality befitting a divine being. Accordingly, the Greeks looked to their predecessors and to their neighbours for ideas on suitable designs for a temple. From their Mycenaean ancestors they took the idea of an architectural footprint based on the rectangular megaron or “great hall”- a room with a frontal porch supported by columns. From the Egyptians they borrowed the concept of monumentality and a range of design elements and ornaments such as fluted columns, palmettes, spirals, rosettes, lotus plant imagery, etc. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“The first Greek temples were a far cry from a classical masterpiece such as the Parthenon. During the Bronze Age it seems that no temples were built and there is uncertainty as to when they began to be built. It happened during the Dark Age but surviving examples, according to A.W. Lawrence are “few in number and of deplorable quality.” The construction materials were mud brick for the walls with high-pitched roofs made of timber. Greek builders were not satisfied for long with this model and they gradually made their way to stone construction. |

“During the 7th century the Greek “Orders of Architecture” began its evolution. Few people today are not familiar with the notion that there are Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles. Many can even pick out the different styles in modern examples in their cities for these became widely admired and copied throughout the world...The Parthenon is considered to be the greatest of the Doric temples, the ultimate achievement of architectural perfection in this style. |

“All three styles are built upon a single construction system- the post and lintel- where a horizontal block of stone (the lintel) is laid across two supports (posts or columns). It was a simple system which imposed some limitations on the architects but it assured an appropriate result. An inspired architect might produce a Parthenon but a less gifted individual would at least produce a temple adequate for religious worship. Instead of seeking innovation in other systems and styles, Greek architects sought refinement and perfection in the system that they had chosen. They laid down a framework of rules which spelled out how to address composition and proportion. All of the elements and components had a specified form and function. Tey working within that formula Greek architects were able to produce a range of distinctive temples including some that made the List of Wonders of the ancient world. |

from the Five Orders of Architecture (1889)

Doric Versus Ionic Architecture

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The two principal orders in Archaic and Classical Greek architecture are the Doric and the Ionic. In the first, the Doric order, the columns are fluted and have no base. The capitals are composed of two parts consisting of a flat slab, the abacus, and a cushion-like slab known as the echinus. On the capital rests the entablature, which is made up of three parts: the architrave, the frieze, and the cornice. The architrave is typically undecorated except for a narrow band to which are attached pegs, known as guttae. On the frieze are alternating series of triglyphs (three bars) and metopes, stone slabs frequently decorated with relief sculpture. The pediment, the triangular space enclosed by the gables at either end of the building, was often adorned with sculpture, early on in relief and later in the round. Among the best-preserved examples of Archaic Doric architecture are the temple of Apollo at Corinth, built in the second quarter of the sixth century B.C., and the temple of Aphaia at Aegina, built around 500–480 B.C. To the latter belong at least three different groups of pedimental sculpture exemplary of stylistic development between the end of the sixth century and beginning of the fifth century B.C. in Attica. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

“In the Ionic order of architecture, bases support the columns, which have more vertical flutes than those of the Doric order. Ionic capitals have two volutes that rest atop a band of palm-leaf ornaments. The abacus is narrow and the entablature, unlike that of the Doric order, usually consists of three simple horizontal bands. The most important feature of the Ionic order is the frieze, which is usually carved with relief sculpture arranged in a continuous pattern around the building. \^/

“In general, the Doric order occurs more frequently on the Greek mainland and at sites on the Italian peninsula, where there were many Greek colonies. The Ionic order was more popular among Greeks in Asia Minor and in the Greek islands. A third order of Greek architecture, known as the Corinthian, first developed in the late Classical period, but was more common in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Corinthian capitals have a bell-shaped echinus decorated with acanthus leaves, spirals, and palmettes. There is also a pair of small volutes at each corner; thus, the capital provides the same view from all sides. “The architectural order governed not only the column, but also the relationships among all the components of architecture. As a result, every piece of a Greek building is integral to its overall structure; a fragment of molding often can be used to reconstruct an entire building. \^/

Greek Versus Roman Architecture

Some say that the Romans took Etruscan elements — the high podium and columns arranged in a semicircle — and incorporated them with Greek temple architecture. Roman temples were more spacious than their Greek counterparts because unlike the Greeks, who displayed only a statue of the god the temple was built for, the Roman needed room for their statues and weapons they took as trophies from the people they conquered.

One of the main differences between Greek and Roman architecture was that the Greek buildings were intended to be viewed from the outside and Romans created huge indoor spaces that were put to many uses. Greek temples were essentially a roof with forest of columns underneath it that were necessary to support it. They had nevr learned to develop the arch, dome or vaults to great level of sophistication. The Romans used these three elements of architecture to construct all sorts of different kinds of structures: baths, aqueducts, basilicas, etc. The curve was the essential feature: "walls became ceilings, ceilings reached up to the heavens." ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, Turkey

The Greeks depended on post-and-lintel architecture while the Romans used the arch. The arch helped the Romans construct larger interior spaces. If the Pantheon was built using Greek methods the large open space inside would have been overcrowded with columns.

Ancient Greek Temples

Ancient Greek temples, unlike churches, were places the gods lived, not houses of worship. They were regarded as the home of cult statues and places where people could pay homage to gods and leave gifts for them. Some were only entered once or twice a year, and then only by the priest of the temple. Temples were built on hills, known as acropolises, apparently to impress outsiders coming to the city.

Greek temples were constructed to be admired from the outside. Ordinary people were often not allowed to go inside and if they were there usually wasn't much for them to see except for a large statue of the god the temple honored. On the outside statues were placed in niches. In a couple of instances the columns themselves were made into statues of women.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The Greeks worshipped in sanctuaries located, according to the nature of the particular deity, either within the city or in the countryside. A sanctuary was a well-defined sacred space set apart usually by an enclosure wall. This sacred precinct, also known as a temenos, contained the temple with a monumental cult image of the deity, an outdoor altar, statues and votive offerings to the gods, and often features of landscape such as sacred trees or springs. Many temples benefited from their natural surroundings, which helped to express the character of the divinities. For instance, the temple at Sounion dedicated to Poseidon, god of the sea, commands a spectacular view of the water on three sides, and the Parthenon on the rocky Athenian Akropolis celebrates the indomitable might of the goddess Athena. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

The Selinus Temple in Sicily was one of the largest Greek temples ever built. It is 362 feet long, 164 feet wide and has 48 columns made of 50 ton blocks that were hoisted 60 feet into the air. Because people often gathered outside a Greek temple rather than in interior could be relatively small. Temples usually features freestanding statues on pediments and relief panels carved into the stone that formed friezes around the building.

Temple features

Ancient Greek Temple Construction

Ancient Greek temples were designed and constructed by craftsmen and decisions about column size and their location, it appears, were made when the building was being erected. According to Boorstin "scholars have not found a single architectural drawing." Most temples had a similar design and really the only creative work done by the architects was the artwork on the friezes and lintels. [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin,"]

To construct a temple, Greek builders used ropes, pulleys and wooden cranes, as high as 80 feet tall, and sometimes used 25-foot-tall teamons, statues of a giant used as a support. Rough limestone columns were lifted and placed and then fluted by a stone cutter.

“According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Although the ancient Greeks erected buildings of many types, the Greek temple best exemplifies the aims and methods of Greek architecture. The temple typically incorporated an oblong plan, and one or more rows of columns surrounding all four sides. The vertical structure of the temple conformed to an order, a fixed arrangement of forms unified by principles of symmetry and harmony. There was usually a pronaos (front porch) and an opisthodomos (back porch). The upper elements of the temple were usually made of mudbrick and timber, and the platform of the building was of cut masonry. Columns were carved of local stone, usually limestone or tufa; in much earlier temples, columns would have been made of wood. Marble was used in many temples, such as the Parthenon in Athens, which is decorated with Pentelic marble and marble from the Cycladic island of Paros. The interior of the Greek temple characteristically consisted of a cella, the inner shrine in which stood the cult statue, and sometimes one or two antechambers, in which were stored the treasury with votive offerings. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

“The quarrying and transport of marble and limestone were costly and labor-intensive, and often constituted the primary cost of erecting a temple. For example, the wealth Athens accumulated after the Persian Wars enabled Perikles to embark on his extensive building program, which included the Parthenon (447–432 B.C.) and other monuments on the Athenian Akropolis. Typically, a Greek civic or religious body engaged the architect, who participated in every aspect of construction. He usually chose the stone, oversaw its extraction, and supervised the craftsmen who roughly shaped each piece in the quarry. At the building site, expert carvers gave the blocks their final form, and workmen hoisted each one into place. The tight fit of the stones was enough to hold them in place without the use of mortar; metal clamps embedded in the stone reinforced the structure against earthquakes. A variety of skilled labor collaborated in the raising of a temple. Workmen were hired to construct the wooden scaffolding needed for hoisting stone blocks and sculpture, and to make the ceramic tiles for the roofs. Metalworkers were employed to make the metal fittings used for reinforcing the stone blocks and to fashion the necessary bronze accoutrements for sculpted scenes on the frieze, metopes and pediments. Sculptors from the Greek mainland and abroad carved freestanding and relief sculpture for the eaves of the temple building. Painters were engaged to decorate sculptural and architectural elements with painted details.” \^/

Greek temple plans


According to the Canadian Museum of History: “In the fourth century B.C. cities began to build stone theatres. In fact one of the most characteristic buildings found in any ancient Greek city of any importance was a quality theatre. Audiences in Athens who had attended presentations by the masters of the Greek stage- Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides- had been seated on wooden benches lining the south slope of the Acropolis. Their descendants had a better environment. The typical Greek theatre was built into the slope of a hillside which provided support for the curving banks of stone seats that faced the stage. Most patrons brought their own seat cushions to these open air structures since watching plays during a festival period was somewhat of an endurance contest. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The Greek theater consisted essentially of the orchestra, the flat dancing floor of the chorus, and the theatron, the actual structure of the theater building. Since theaters in antiquity were frequently modified and rebuilt, the surviving remains offer little clear evidence of the nature of the theatrical space available to the Classical dramatists in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. There is no physical evidence for a circular orchestra earlier than that of the great theater at Epidauros dated to around 330 B.C.” [Source: Colette Hemingway, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004,]

“Most likely, the audience in fifth-century B.C. Athens was seated close to the stage in a rectilinear arrangement, such as appears at the well-preserved theater at Thorikos in Attica. During this early period in Greek drama, the stage and most probably the skene (stage building) were made of wood. Vase paintings depicting Greek comedy from the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C. suggest that the stage stood about a meter high with a flight of steps in the center. The actors entered from either side and from a central door in the skene, which also housed the ekkyklema, a wheeled platform with sets of scenes. A mechane, or crane, located at the right end of the stage, was used to hoist gods and heroes through the air onto the stage. Greek dramatists surely made the most of the extreme contrasts between the gods up high and the actors on stage, and between the dark interior of the stage building and the bright daylight.” \^/

Epidaurus Theater

Epidaurus Theater

The Epidaurus Theater in Epidaurus (70 kilometers south of Corinth) is the most famous and best preserved ancient amphitheater theater in Greece. Built into a hillside surrounded by trees in the 4th century B.C., the theater has a circular stage. The acoustics are so good it is said an actor's whisper can be heard in the back row — a tribute to the the theater’s famous architect Polykleitos, the Younger. Plays are still regularly performed there. Its fifty-five rows of seats could accommodate up to 12,000 people, considerably more than can squeeze into an average city theater which, typically, has seating for 5000 people. |

How is it possible for music and voices to be heard with such clarity in the back rows? Limestone seats form an acoustics filler that hushes low-frequency background noises such as the murmur of the crowd and reflects high-frequency noises of the performers on stage off the seats and back towards the seated audience members. The theater is also very steeply sloped (30 to 34 degrees). This is creates a shorter path for direct sound with few interferences in that direct path. [Source: MCT, Georgia Institute of Technology]

At the 8000-seat marble amphitheater in Aphrodisias in Asia Minor, audiences watched masked and robed actors perform dramas about conspiring slaves and two-timing wives. When the show was over the audience was discouraged out of a gate called the vomitorium .

Greek Theater

Gymnasiums and Hippodromes

A typical Greek gymnasium was an open court surrounded by columns with areas for running, jumping and throwing and a covered area for wrestling and bathing. Young men often spent a greater part of their day in the gymnasium, occupying themselves as much with chatting and hanging out as working out. It is no surprise that Sophists conducted their first meetings in gymnasiums and Plato set up his Academy and Aristotle set up his Lyceum next to gymnasiums.

Chariot and horse races were held in long, narrow Hippodromes that seated up to 45,000 spectators. The track was not like a modern horse racing track. It was more like an oval football field with a row of columns down the middle, which created a lot of maneuvering room.

Seven Wonders of the World

The Seven Wonders of the World were first mentioned in the 2nd century B.C. by a man called Antipater of Sidon. They are: 1) the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt); 2) Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Iraq); 3) the Tomb of King Mausolus (Turkey); 4) Temple of Diana (Turkey); 5) Colossus of Rhodes (Greece); 6) Statue of Olympia (Greece); 7) The Pharos of Alexandria (Egypt).

Why seven? Even in ancient times, the number seven was believed to have had mystical significance and bring good. That is also why there were seven seas, seven deadly sins and seven early churches of Christendom. In ancient times, there were different lists of seven wonders and people visited the “wonders” like modern-day tourists.

The pyramids are the only one of the seven wonders still standing. Part of the Temple of Diana remains. The others vanished after they were toppled by earthquakes and/or scavenged for building material. The images that we have of the seven wonders today are primarily paintings and drawing made by medieval and Renaissance artists over a thousand years after the wonders were gone.

The “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” by Paul Jordan

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Zeus Statue at Olympia Zeus Temple

Statue of Zeus and Colossus of Rhodes

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Reputed to be 40 feet high and placed in the great temple of Zeus in 457 B.C. the statue depicted Zeus seated on a throne. His body was carved from ivory and his robe and ornaments were made of gold. It was sculpted by Phidias (who created a similar statue of Athena in the Parthenon in Athens) sometime after 432 B.C.

The statue of Zeus was made of gold and ivory plates placed over a wood structure (making it from bronze and gold would have been too heavy for a statue of this size). A system of pipes was devised to bring oil to the wood to prevent it from rotting, The oil also helped preserve the ivory. Zeus sat on the golden throne with jewels for eyes, with his feet resting on a foot stool of gold. Worshippers used to pray at the statue’s feet. Chroniclers said the statue was still there in the 2nd century B.C. After that it disappeared, most likely it was stripped and looted.

The original Temple of Zeus was destroyed in A.D. 426. The new temple one that housed the statue was 32 meters wide, 75 meters long and and 12 meters high, It was made of the finest marble and topped by a gilded statue of Nike. Sculpted lion heads with their mouths open served as drain spouts for the Temple of Zeus roof.

Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Erected between 292 and 280 B.C. to celebrate the ending of a Macedonian the siege, it was a nude statue of Apollo that stood 120 feet and had a shoulder girth of 60 feet. It was built of stone blocks and iron and was covered with bronze plates. Contrary to famous depictions of the statue, the Colossus, as big as it was, did not straddle harbor and ships did not pass between its legs.

Some depictions of the Colossus of Rhodes show it straddling Mandriki harbor but it actually stood on one side. It stood for only 56 years before it broke off at the knees was toppled by an earthquake about 225 B.C. Unfortunately there is nothing left of it today. According to some accounts it lay in ruins for another 900 years until A.D. 667 when 720,900 pounds of statue and scrap was sold by Arabs, who controlled the island, to a Jewish merchant, who reportedly needed 900 ships to carry the load back to Alexandria. Using coin inscriptions as his guide, American sculpture Felix de Weldon, plans to recreate the 105 foot Colossus of Rhodes.

Colossus of Rhodes

Temple of Diana

The Temple of Diana (in Ephesus) was ordered by King Croesus and completed around 550 B.C. after 120 years of labor. Described by Phion as the greatest of the seven wonders, the Temple of Diana was 225-feet-wide and 525-feet-long, with 127 sixty-foot-high marble columns. The largest and most complex temple in ancient times, it was made out of marble, wood and tile, and built on marshy soil so it would be immune to earthquakes. Even so the temple had to be rebuilt three times before Goths destroyed it in 262 A.D.

The Temple of Diana was built around 550 B.C. near the sea and destroyed by invading Goths around A.D. 262. Ertastratus ordered the Temple of Diana to be burned down he did so to ensure that it was remembered, English archeologist J. T. Wood rediscovered the temple in 1874 after 11 years of digging. Today the ruins are located a mile or so away from Ephesus, and unfortunately all that remains is a foundation.

Diana of Ephesus, also known as the virgin huntress of the moon, was worshipped throughout most of Europe and the Mediterranean during ancient times and she still has followers today. The Greeks knew her as Artemis, and her origins can be traced as far back as Babylon. She may even have evolved from Stone Age earth mothers goddesses that dominated primitive cultures before the Greeks popularized male gods.

Despite the fact she was a permanent virgin, she was the goddess of fertility, and the famous statue of her now in the Selçuk Museum has endowed her with 18 breasts. None of the breasts have nipples, however, which led one classical scholar to venture they were actually bull's testes or the ova on scared bees. Whatever they were Diana's image has fascinated artists for centuries. Other statues have placed bees on her knees and lions over her shoulders. A Raphael painting of her graces the Vatican. And recently a Brooklyn artist gave her four buttocks as well as a chestful of breasts.

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

What got St. Paul into trouble was his statement: "Diana should be despised and her magnificence should be destroyed" The Temple that honored her was a popular tourist attraction and silver souvenirs of Diana and her temple were sold on the streets of Ephesus like miniature Eiffel towers and Statues of Liberty are sold today. During the festival of Artemis images of Diana were placed on the steps of her temple for worshipers to kiss. [Source: Vicky Goldberg, New York Times, August 21, 1994].

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (in Bodrum, Turkey) is the source of the word "mausoleum," this 12-story-high rectangular marble tomb was erected in the 4th century B.C. for the Persian lord Mausolus by his wife. Some say the wife was also his sister, and after his funeral she allegedly drank some of his cremated ashes in a goblet of wine.

No pictures were ever drawn of the tomb when it stood. The illustrations from the Middle Ages and the 18th century, similar to the one above, were based on the following description by the Roman historian Pliny: "The north and south side of it extends for 63 feet the total circumference being 440 feet...the building rises to a height of 25 cubits [40 feet], and is surrounded by 36 columns...Above the colonnade there is pyramid equal in height to the lower part and tapered in 24 stages to the top of its peak. At the summit there is a four horse chariot of marble...the height of the whole structure [is] 140 feet."

Based on this description, drawings depicted the mausoleum with a colossal roof. Some showed a platform with 36 golden Ionic columns and a pyramid topped by a bronze chariot and statues of the Mausolus and his wife. Danish archaeologists who excavated the site early this century didn't find any golden columns, but they did find 50 slabs from the actual roof which it turns out was only 24 feet high.

Temple of Diana
This doesn't mean the mausoleum was some sort of mundane everyday temple. It was adorned with "a battle scene between 88 life-size Greeks and Persians near ground level," says Cambridge scholar Chris Scarre, who has written about all the seven wonders, "72 larger than life-sized statues higher up on the middle step, more warriors and huntsmen on the upper step of the podium, 36 colossal statues of Mausolus' ancestors between the columns of the colonnade, and finally at least 56 lions around the lower edge of the roof."

Tomb of Mausolus was begun in 353 B.C. Mausolus was thick necked, broad shouldered man with long hair and beard, as depicted in the statues now at the British museum. Mausolus's coffin, according to legend, was discovered by the Knights of St. John when they burned the mausoleum's marble to make mortar for their castle. But looters got to it before the they could open it and all the knights found was a few gold roundels and gold cloth fragments.

The mausoleum was probably destroyed by an earthquake between the 11th and 15th centuries. All that remains of the mausoleum in Bodrum is an unimpressive collection of column pieces and sculptured stones placed in a sunken garden. In the small museum there are models of the tomb, some sculptures and casts of the more impressive sculptures and reliefs — with Lapisths battlin centaurs, Greeks fighting Amazons, and chariot races — now in the British Museum. If you want to see what the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus may have looked like check out the Scottish Rite Supreme Council Building in Washington D.C., which was modeled after it. [Information for this section was taken from an article by Chris Scarre in the September/ October 1993 issue of Archeology]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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