Explore The central and southern Aegean
In the eyes of its devotees, BODRUM, with its low-rise whitewashed houses and subtropical gardens, is the longest established, most attractive and most versatile Turkish resort – a quality outfit in comparison to its Aegean rivals, Marmaris and Kuşadası. However, the town’s recent attempts to be all things to all tourists have made it more difficult to tell the difference, while the controlled development within the municipality – height limits and a preservation code are in force – has resulted in exploitation of the nearby peninsula, until recently little disturbed. The airport at Milas enables easy access for both tourists and İstanbul-based weekenders, the latter’s fondness for the peninsula inflating prices in general.
The Bodrum area has long attracted large numbers of Britons, both the moneyed yacht set and the charter-flight trade, and most of the big UK package-tour operators are active here. If you want waterborne distractions laid on by day and some of the most sophisticated nightlife in Turkey (complete with imported DJs), then Bodrum town, and Gümbet in particular, will probably suit. If you’re after a coastal tranquillity with plenty of local character, then peninsular outposts such as Gümüşlük and Akyarlar more closely answer to the description.
Sitting on a promontory splitting the inner and outer harbours, Bodrum’s main landmark is the Castle of St Peter, now home to the town’s cultural centrepiece, the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Despite the commercialization of the grounds, the museum is well worth visiting, with its array of towers, courtyards and dungeons, as well as separate museums displaying underwater finds from various wrecks.
The castle was built by the Knights of St John in 1406, over a small Selçuk fortress. More walls and moats were added over succeeding decades along with water cisterns to guarantee self-sufficiency in the event of siege. The finishing touches had just been applied in 1522 when Süleyman’s capture of the Knights’ headquarters on Rhodes made their position here untenable. Bodrum’s castle was subsequently neglected until the nineteenth century, when the chapel was converted to a mosque, the keep to a prison, and a hamam installed. The castle was damaged by shells during World War I and was not properly refurbished until the 1960s, when it was converted into a museum.
Bodrum, originally known as Halikarnassos, was colonized by Dorians from the Peloponnese during the eleventh century BC. They mingled with the existing Carian population, settling on the small island of Zephysia, which in later ages became a peninsula and the location of the medieval castle. During the fifth century BC, Halikarnassos’ most famous son Herodotus chronicled the city’s fortunes in his acclaimed Histories.
Mausolus (377–353 BC), leader of the Hecatomnid satraps dynasty, soon increased the power and wealth of what had already become a semi-independent principality. An admirer of Greek civilization, Mausolus spared no effort to Hellenize his cities, and was working on a suitably self-aggrandizing tomb at the time of his death – thereby giving us the word “mausoleum”. Artemisia II, his sister and wife, completed the massive structure, which came to be regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Like her ancestor Artemisia I, she distinguished herself in warfare, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Rhodians, who were tricked into allowing her entire fleet into their port.
In 334 BC the rampaging Alexander’s arrival coincided with a bitter succession feud between Artemisia’s heirs. The Macedonian armies wreaked such havoc that the city never fully recovered. After a period of little importance under the Roman and Byzantine empires, and brief shuffling among Selçuk, Menteşe and Ottoman occupiers, the Knights of St John slipped over from Rhodes in 1402 and erected the castle that is now Bodrum’s most prominent landmark. Urgently needing to replace the fortress at Smyrna destroyed by the Mongols, the Knights engaged the best military engineers of the era to construct their new stronghold on the promontory. The name bodrum, meaning “cellar” or “dungeon” in Turkish, probably pays tribute to the stronghold’s subterranean defences. After Süleyman the Magnificent compelled the Knights to depart in 1523, the castle’s history was virtually synonymous with that of the town until the twentieth century.