One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos was the tomb of King Maussollos, a member of the Hekatomnid dynasty who ruled the region of Karia (Caria) in what is now southwestern Turkey. When Maussollos came to power in 377 B.C., Karia was a far-flung frontier region of the massive but declining Persian Empire. Thus although Maussollos was nominally a Persian satrap, in actuality he was the king of an autonomous nation.
A kingdom in all but name, Maussollos' Karia thrived on the Mediterranean sea trade, and Maussollos acquired great personal wealth, allowing for the construction of the massive tomb. Maussollos likely planned and directed the early stages of the construction, but he died before it was finished, so his sister and wife Artemisia oversaw its completion around 351 B.C.
Designed by the famous architects Pytheos and Satyros, the gargantuan structure was 45 meters (140 feet) high, consisting of a 20 meter (60 ft) stepped podium with a 12 meter (38 ft) colonnade, toped by 7 meter (22 ft) pyramid on which rested a 6 meter (20 ft) statue of Maussollos riding in a chariot. The base was rectangular, about 40 meters (120 ft) by 30 meters (100 ft).
In ancient times, the Mausoleum was noted for its beautiful sculptures. Free-standing statues showed scenes of life at Maussollos' court, including hunting, dining, and ceremonial activities. Portraits of members of the court were set up between the columns and a battle between the Greeks and Persians was also represented. Each of the four sides had a great frieze, with one of four prominent Greek sculptors - Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas, and Timotheus - each responsible for one frieze. The friezes showed traditional mythological subjects such as battles between Greeks and Amazons and Lapiths and Centaurs as well as chariot races. These people were carved to different scales depending on where in the frieze they were located, which has helped modern scholars reconstruct the scenes from fragments.
The marble used to build the Mausoleum came from several quarries. The finest Pentelic and Parian marbles money could buy were used for the free-standing sculptures, while marbles from western Asia Minor were used for the basic architecture. The monument was lavishly painted and traces of pigment still survive on several sculptures.
The Mausoleum stood intact for 16 centuries, until the late medieval period, when it is thought to have been badly damaged by an earthquake. In 1494 the crusader Knights of Saint John destroyed what remained of the Mausoleum, using most of its stones to fortify a castle they had built at the nearby town of Bodrum.
In 1846 sections from one of the friezes were recovered from the castle by Sir Stratford Canning, the British ambassador to Constantinople, and presented to The British Museum. In 1856 Charles Newton rediscovered and excavated the site of the Mausoleum, unearthing numerous fragments of sculpture and architecture, which are also now in the British Museum. Further investigations at the site were undertaken in the nineteenth century by Alfred Biliotti and Auguste Salzmann and more recently by a team of Danish archaeologists.
Our main sources for how the Mausoleum was built and what it looked like in ancient times are Roman writers Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius.