The port of Bodrum, on the Turkish west coast, is the starting point for spectacular cruises down the beautiful turquoise coast. For yachting enthusiasts, the Bodrum Cup Race is held every October. The boatyards of Bodrum have been famous since ancient times and today the traditional types of yachts are still crafted there. Today Bodrum sports one of the world’s finest nautical archaeological museums, the Undersea Archaeological Museum.
I knew about this port from its place in history when it was known as Halicarnassus and was famous for the Tomb of King Mausoles, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The mausoleum has long since been destroyed (I saw a reconstruction of it in the British Museum), fragments of the marble were used to build the Castle of St. Peter, a landmark of medieval architecture that dominates the port. The castle is built on a promontory that was once a small island called Zephyria, occupied around the time of the Trojan Wars. The original fortress was destroyed and later reconstructed during the Crusades by the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Rhodes. Its massive walls have five towers and seven gates with numerous inscriptions and coats-of-arms embedded in the structure. Construction took years to complete and became the symbol of the unity of Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire. Over the years it has served as a military garrison, a fortress prison and once its walls enclosed a tiny village. It now houses the Undersea Archaeological Museum.
The Undersea Archaeological Museum, is Turkey’s pride. It was built in 1961 with a display of cargo and replicas or actual portions of ships found ‘in situ’ dating from 1400 BC to Byzantine times. One room of the museum is devoted to glass objects from the Byzantine era. To preserve these treasures, the room is kept at a regulated cold temperature. You’ll also see displays in the various towers of the castle. In the English Tower are suits of armor and artifacts that include a replica of “The Sovereign of the Seas” a ship commissioned by King Charles 1 in the 1600’s.
In a hall especially built in the museum are finds from the late 13th century BC and the 16th century BC including a Syrian merchant’s trading vessel containing valuable artifacts related to that period including provisions such as figs, olives and pomegranates in carefully packed pots. Gold and silver jewelry was also found along with tools and arms made from bronze. Excavations on one exciting Bronze Age wreck began in 1982. The ship was from Cyprus, loaded with copper ingots and sank off Antalya. It contained 354 copper ingots and 121 bun ingots many of which have been studied and documented. Another Bronze Age ship was laden with gifts from a king to a king including Hittite and Egyptian treasures. These antique treasures were riches only to be owned by royalty.
There is a partial model of a merchant ship that you can board to get the sense of size (these vessels weren’t that large!). I found the entire experience both informative and thrilling, especially the way many of the exhibits are displayed ‘in situ’ as though you are a diver underwater observing the wrecks. You got a real sense of what life must have been for seamen and traders. The museum is a fascinating look into the past that takes you back from the days of the ancient marines who plied the stormy Mediterranean and met their destiny shipwrecked on Anatolian shores to those of the medieval knights who built the castle. The museum is open every day except Monday from 10:00 – 12:00, 14:00-18:00
When you’ve finished your tour of the Undersea Museum and want to enjoy more sea adventures, take a dolmus (mini bus) to Gumusluk Beach, a half hour from Bodrum. Although the beach is mostly stony, the sea here is jade green, the water calm and shallow. Nearby is the site of ancient Myndos, inhabited from prehistoric times to the 4th century AD. After the death of Julius Caesar, his assassins, Brutus and Cassius, hid out here. Some house foundations can be seen on the hillside or underwater, accessible to scuba divers. This coast is perfect for exploring underwater and scuba rentals are available. Or take a yacht charter down the coast. The next time I go, that’s definitely my plan!
Written by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com