It’s fair to say that the coastal resort of BODRUM has a certain reputation. To many travellers, the very name conjures up images of drunken debauchery, full English breakfasts, and belly-out Europeans turning slowly pink on a Mediterranean beach. While there’s an element of truth to that stereotype, the reality is somewhat different – with its low-rise whitewashed houses and subtropical gardens, Bodrum is the most attractive of the major Aegean resorts, given a more cosmopolitan air by the increasing number of Turkish visitors.
Bodrum is neatly divided into two contrasting halves by its castle, and a largely pedestrianized bazaar area that sits immediately to its north. To the west is the more genteel area that surrounds a spruced-up yacht marina, with its upmarket hotels and restaurants, while to the east the town’s party zone holds its highest concentration of bars and restaurants. The eastern zone also features a thin, scrubby strip of beach, packed with sunbathers during the day and shoreside diners in the evening.
Lastly, mention must also be made of the delightful peninsula that Bodrum calls home; a tranquil and highly characterful place with beaches galore, it has recently become immensely popular with moneyed locals.
Originally known as Halikarnassos, Bodrum 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 later 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, 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. She distinguished herself in warfare, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Rhodians, who were tricked into allowing her entire fleet into their port.
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 – indeed, the name bodrum, meaning “cellar” or “dungeon” in Turkish, probably pays tribute to the stronghold’s subterranean defences.