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Topography and town plan


Remains have been found on the site of Halikarnassos from about 1400 BC in the Mycenaean period through all periods until today. Some few remains of a Temple, a fountain house with an aqueduct and a Sanctuary of Demeter in addition to some pottery sherds and inscriptions, indicate that Halikarnassos was of some importance at the time of Herodotos and Artemisia the Elder in the early part of the 5th century BC. But so far no details are known about the lay-out of Archaic and 5th century BC Halikarnassos.

We are considerable better informed about the new city, which Maussollos founded on the site in about 370 BC, although only very small areas of the ancient city have been excavated archaeologically. Archaeological excavations are difficult as the site is presently covered by the flourishing modern town of Bodrum. But in addition to the physical remains we are very lucky to have a quite detailed description of the town by the Roman architect Vitruvius, who apparently had a special interest in Halikarnassos and the architecture of the Ionian Renaissance of Late Classical and Hellenistic Asia Minor (Vitruvius 2. 8. 10-15).

Selected passage from Vitruvius 2.8.10-15 – description of Halikarnassos:

“Is autem locus est theatri curvaturae similis. Itaque in imo secundum portum forum est constitutum: per mediam autem altitudinis curvaturam praecinctionemque platea ampla latitudine facta, in qua media Mausoleum ita egregiis operibus est factum, ut in septem spectaculis nominetur. In summa arce media Martis fanum habens statuam colossicam acrolithon nobili manu Leocharis factam. Hanc autem statuam alii Leocharis, alii Timothei putant esse. In cornu autem summo dextro Veneris et Mercuri fanum ad ipsum Salmakidis fontem. Is autem falsa opinione putatur ....
.... Relinquitur nunc, quoniam ad explicationem moenium eorum sum invectus, totam uti sunt definiam. Quemadmodum enim in dextra parte fanum est Veneis et fons supra scriptus, ita in sinistro cornu regia domus, quam rex Mausolus ad suam rationem conlocavit. Conspicitur enim ex ea ad dextram partem forum et portus moeniumque tota finitio, sub sinistram secretus sub montibus latens portus, ita ut nemo posset, quid in eo geratur, aspicere nec scire, ut rex ipse de sua domo remigibus et militibus sine ullo sciente quae opus essent, spectaret. Itaque post mortem Mausoli ....“ (after Loeb edition, F. Granger 1962).

Fig. 1. The Turgut Reis Caddesi from the East

Vitruvius describes the lay-out of Halikarnassos as similar to a theatre (“Is autem locus est theatri curvaturae similis”). This gave some confusion as to the lay-out of the streets as it was taken literally as if meaning that Halikarnassos did not have an orthogonal street plan (Hornblower, Mausolus (1982) 298-305) but maybe had curved streets. A simple check with a compass however, clearly show that ancient walls and foundations all over the town are oriented according an overall orthogonal system. During the Danish Maussolleion Excavations it also became clear that an ancient street 15 meters wide running along the north side of the Maussolleion terrace must have constituted the wide street compared by Vitruvius to the praecinctio of a theatre. This main street of ancient Halikarnassos still exists as the main street of modern Bodrum under the name of Turgut Reïs Caddesi (fig. 1).

If one has a look on the pattern of paths, roads and fields in modern Bodrum it becomes evident that the entire town is still very much dependent on the layout determined by the city-planners of Maussollos. On the basis of some measurements and modern streets it is possible to construct a theoretical grid-system, but it will remain very hypothetical until several new streets from ancient Halikarnassos turn up in the future (figs. 2 and 3).

Fig. 2 and 3. The plan to the left shows the trace of roads and paths in modern Bodrum.
The plan to the right presents a suggestion for a grid-plan for the streets of ancient Halikarnassos.

One problem in relation to the description by Vitruvius is that it is not quite clear whether he is describing Halikarnassos as seen by someone looking northwards while entering the harbour from the sea, or looking southwards maybe from the ancient theatre. To-day most scholars believe that the description is by someone looking south and I agree on this view, which is in good accordance with remains that may be related to the Fountain of Salmakis and to the Palace of Maussollos respectively. The other view of angle, however, i.e. from the south, was maintained by some already in the Renaissance (fig. 4) and recently Wolfram Hoepfner has tried to reconstruct the topography of Halikarnassos from this angle of view.

Poul Pedersen


P. Pedersen; Townplanning in Halicarnassus and Rhodes, in: S. Dietz, I. Papachristodoulou (eds), Archaeology in the Dodecanese. Copenhagen 1988 p. 98-103.

P. Pedersen; The Maussolleion Terrace and Accessory Structures. The Maussolleion at Halikarnassos 3:1 and 3:2. Aarhus 1991 p. 95-97.

W. Hoepfner & E.-L- Schwandner, Haus und Stadt im klassischen Griechenland. München 1994. p. 226-234

L.M. Calió & E. Interdonato, “Theatri curvaturae similis”, in: Archeologia Classica Vol. 56 – n.s. 6 (2005) 49-130.

A. Baran, “Karian Architecture Before the Hekatomnids” in: F. Rumscheid (ed.), Die Karer und die Anderen. Internationales Kolloquium an der Freien Universität Berlin 13. bis 15. Oktober 2005. (Bonn 2009) 294-298 (on pre-Maussollan architecture in Halikarnassos).  

P. Pedersen, “The 4th century BC ‘Ionian Renaissance’and Karian Identity” in: O. Henry (ed), 4th century Karia. Defining a Karian Identity under the Hekatomnids. Paris 2013, 33-64 (With an appendix on the pre-Maussollan water systems at the Maussolleion site).

W. Hoepfner; Halikarnassos und das Maussolleion. Darmstadt/Mainz 2013.

P. Pedersen & S. Isager, “The Theatre of Halikarnassos – and Some Thoughts on the Origin of the Semicircular Greek Theatre”. With an appendix “The Inscriptions from the Theatre at Halikarnassos” in: (R. Frederiksen, E. R. Gebhard & A. Sokolicek (eds) The Architecture of the Ancient Greek Theatre. Acts of an International Conference at the Danish Institute at Athens, 27-30 January 2012. Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens, Vol. 17. (Aarhus 2015) 293-317. 

P. Pedersen, “Ancient Halikarnassos. Theatri curvaturae similis - and theatroeideis” in: M. Livadiotti et alii (a cura di), Theatroeideis. L'immagine della città, la città delle immagini. Atti del Convegno Internazionale, Bari, 15-19 giugno 2016, Thiasos Monografie 11, vol. I (Roma 2018) 89-108.

P. Pedersen, “Halicarnassus – the Carian Metropolis. City of Herodotus and Mausolus.” In: O.C. Henry & A. Belgin-Henry (eds), Karialılar. Denizcilerden Kent Kuruculara. The Carians. From Seafarers to City Builders. Istanbul 2020, 344-367.

In Danish language

P. Pedersen, "Byen ligner et teater". En romersk arkitekt i Halikarnassos. I: "Hvad fandt vi?". En gravedagbog fra Institut for klassisk arkæologi, Aarhus Universitet. 1999 57-68.

P. Pedersen, ”Byarkæologi. Jagten på kong Maussollos' forsvundne hovedstad”, i: "Hvad fandt vi?". En gravedagbog fra Institut for klassisk arkæologi, Aarhus Universitet. 1999 69-79.

P. Pedersen & B. Poulsen, ”Kristian Jeppesen – og Jagten på et antikt Underværk og dets by, Halikarnassos.” I: E. Mortensen & R. Raja (udg.), Store danske Arkæologer – på Jagt efter fortidens byer(Aarhus 2019) 214-247.

Last Updated 04.03.2024