Yesterday I rode my bike to the Turgutreis Saturday market to get some supplies for my installation. On the way there I stopped at the Armonia Holiday Village and Spa to take a picture of the Byzantine Church on their premises. It is strange to see this very old structure right in the middle of a modern resort. The exterior is very well preserved and architecturally interesting but the interior is ruined. I find it very odd that these old churches, with the exception of Gumusluk’s 450 year old Iklesia, now a cultural centre, are allowed simply to rot away. This church has such great potential to be a fantastic cultural space as well if someone would just take it in hand. Such a shame to see it disintegrate …
An interesting design feature of houses here on the Bodrum peninsula is their “Satan’s ears”. These are pointed corner stones on each of the four corners of their flat roofs. In Bodrum town, in addition to these ears, many of the buildings also have turrets, towers and battlements that mimic the design of the castle in the town’s harbour. This castle, the Castle of St. Peter the Liberator of the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Rhodes – to give it its full, comprehensive title – is Bodrum’s acclaimed landmark. Today I decided to check out Bodrum and hopped a dolmus that had me at the otogar in the town centre in 40 minutes. My destination was the castle. Walking out of the otogar and down the main steet towards the harbour, I passed through a pedestrian shopping area with many cafes and bars, several under cover of grapevine canopies. This area is very pretty and the harbour itself is quite large and full of gorgeous wooden sailing ships that the Turks call “gulets”. For some reason unknown to me, though, even though all these wooden boats are equipped with sails, none of them does sail. They all travel by engine. It’s too bad because I bet they would look magnificent under sail.
The castle itself is more or less right in the harbour, built on a promontory which, according to Herodotus, was a small island called Zephyria at the time of the first Dorian invasions which occurred around the time of the Trojan Wars. By the time king Mausolus (377-353 BC) came to rule Caria and moved the capital from Mylasa to Halicarnassus, today’s Bodrum, Zephyrion was already a small peninsula joined to the mainland by debris and landfill.
Whether viewed from the land or the sea, Bodrum’s castle is an impressive example of medieval architecture. Occupying some thirty thousand square feet at its base, construction of the castle took years to complete. In its day, the castle was a monumental symbol of the unity of Christian Europe against the ascending power of the Ottomans. Many of the stones used in the construction come from the tomb of King Mausolus (353 BC). One of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, this massive construction survived for centuries until an earthquake brought it down in medieval times. In the 15th century the knights used the ruins of the Mausoleum as a quarry for their castle.
In its heyday, the castle was probably manned by fifty knights and perhaps three times that many ordinary soldiers. The knights hailed from seven different European countries and shared in the defense of the castle and its countryside. The castle’s defenses were never put to the test, for the Ottomans never attacked it. Instead, in 1522 they besieged the island of Rhodes led by their sultan, Süleyman the Magnificent. After holding out for three months, terms were agreed to under which the Knights had to evacuate Rhodes and five other of their strongholds in the eastern Mediterranean. Bodrum, then known as Petronium, was one of them. In January of the following year, the Knights set sail, eventually ending up on Malta in 1530.
Each of the castle’s five turrets are called by the nationality of their original sponsors: the English, French, German, Italian and Spanish Towers. Parts of the walls are built of large slabs of greenish granite which the knights removed from the ruins of the Mausoleum. Other classical fragments are gathered for display in the inner courts. Peacocks strut among marble statues and mollusk-encrusted amphorae. Housed within the premises are the collections of the Museum of Underwater Archeology. The museum, the most important of its kind in the world, contains treasures from a series of historic wrecks discovered on Turkey’s southern shores. Mycenaean and Canaanite artifacts recovered from a l2th century B.C. wreck found off Cape Gelidonya (Antalya) in 1960 formed the original core of the museum. On display in the castle’s Gothic Chapel is a full scale reconstruction of one third of an Eastern Roman wreck from the 7th century A.D. Unfortunately, I was only able to see the Eastern roman wreck because the other parts of the museum are closed on Sunday. I will try to go back again to check those out before I leave Gumusluk.
Also of interest to me was the incredible amount of flowers; apparently the castle grounds house almost every type of Mediteranean plant and most of them are still in bloom now. In addition, inside the castle walls were local artists and artisans selling their wares. Ceramic artists, stone carvers, potters and painters each had little stands with works for sale.
Read more about the castle and its history here:
After leaving the castle, I sampled a cappuccino in one of the harbourfront restaurants and then wandered along the harbour looking at all the beautiful boats in search of the site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. I had understood that it was somewhere near the harbour but there were no signs pointing the way until I reached the end of the boardwalk and finally saw a small yellow sign directing me back the way I had come. The mausoleum site is in Bodrum’s back streets and if you weren’t looking for it, you’d never really know it was there.
After moving the capital of his kingdom to Halicarnassus, now Bodrum, Mausolos decided to build himself a monumental tomb. The project was conceived by his wife and sister Artemisia, and the construction would likely have started during the king’s lifetime. The Mausoleum was completed around 350 BC, three years after Mausolos’ death, and one year after Artemisia’s. For 16 centuries, the Mausoleum remained in good condition until it collapsed in an earthquake in 1304 AD.
Today, the polished stone and marble blocks of the Mausoleum can be spotted built into the walls of the Castle of St. John. At the site of the Mausoleum itself, only the foundation remains, along with a small museum. Some of the Mausoleum’s surviving sculptures are at the British Museum, including fragments of statues and many slabs of the frieze showing the battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. One of these latter is on display in the minuscule museum on the Mausoleum grounds.
As it now stands, while it may have been one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, today the Mausoleum is pretty much a non-event. Basically, what a visitor can see is plenty of large stones and pieces of gigantic pillars, lying around in an area of smaller stones that indicates where the foundation of the tomb would have been. In addition to this, the site houses a very tiny museum with a not very good display describing the tomb and its construction. I’m afraid this display looks more or less like a grade school project, with typed pages taped to the walls along with pencil and pen drawings of the tomb and its sculptures. However, the grounds are quite nice, with beautiful rose bushes in many different varieties. While I enjoyed my visit to the castle, the mausoleum was a disappointment. Another thing that I find peculiar about the historical sites here in Turkey – not just in Bodrum but everywhere I’ve been – is that the explanatory panels are usually so poor. Not only is the English dreadful, but the information given is scanty and lacking in detail. I don’t understand why the authorities don’t have such material properly presented.
With respect to the looting of historical structures for building materials, this is a practice that happened everywhere here. In Gumusluk, for example, the amphitheatre of Myndos, which was still intact in the 19th century, has been completely dismantled over the years by local people getting stones for their own building projects. There’s nothing of it left. Also, Seray was telling me that village people often have the idea that these ancient sites must hold buried treasure and they will dig into and dismantle them looking for this supposed treasure. And they have this idea because, on the rare occasion, someone does find buried treasure. Apparently, the grandfather of the grandfather of a friend of hers found a case of gold in what turned out to be the tomb of Alexander the Great’s daughter somewhere near the Black Sea coast.
With respect to cultural products in Turkey, the sculptor Eyip in residence here at the Academy, gave me some interesting information. He said that, within Islam, the arts of sculpture and painting (and presumably other figurative arts) are not supported. And he himself has been told by people that he will go to hell for creating figurative sculptural works. Apparently, figurative sculptures that have been erected in Antalya and Ankara were dismantled after the government changed with the rationale that they were obscene and shouldn’t be seen by women and children. The paradox that, in Antalya, hundreds and thousands of nude bodies can be seen any day of the week on the beaches there apparently goes unnoticed. In central Anatolia, Eyip told me, the only sculpture people ever see is of Ataturk, the revered father of the Turkish nation. Every government building, school, hospital, etc. has a sculpture of Ataturk. Apparently when Eyip told people he was a sculptor, they assumed he was sculpting likenesses of Ataturk. Eyip also said that wealthy people here are supposed by law to give 5% of their before-tax income to pay for culture; however, because they think culture is “worth nothing”, they find ways of getting around this requirement. I guess artists worldwide have similar issues – lack of patronage and respect for culture. However, in Turkey contemporary artists have the further problem of Islam’s prohibition against figurative art (of humans and animals).
With respect to the work on which I’m engaged here at the Academy, I am really enjoying the evolution of my still life assemblage. Among other influences on this work is Dutch seventeenth century painting, of which I am big fan. And guess what – a big and important show of Dutch seventeenth century art is coming to Vancouver this Spring and Summer with works by Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as by one of my favorite women artists, Rachel Ruysch.
See these articles in today’s Vancouver Sun for the details.