Described as ‘The Land of Eternal Blue’ by Homer, picture a town where the dazzling whitewashed houses ornamented with bright-blue doors and windows, burst into colors with cascades of bright pink and purple bougainvillea flowers flowing from the roofs, where the charming narrow streets slope down to the azure waters. The town tells the tales of an unknown era.
Located on a peninsula and surrounded by numerous islands and islets, on the southwestern coastline of Turkey, this seaside gem once was home to the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, it’s also home to elegant hotels, with a lively array of restaurants with exquisite cuisines and busy bars sprinkled across the coastline.
While it may no longer be an ancient wonder, this glamourous town is one of the trendiest resorts in Turkey with its architecture, spectacular beaches, secret coves, fishing villages, preserving its Aegean characteristics.
Bodrum is also the yachting capital of Turkey with its world-class marina and world-famous shipyards that its history dates back to ancient times. Today, carrying on the tradition, yachts built in those shipyards cruise the Aegean and the Mediterranean.
According to historians, there have always been people living along the coasts of Turkey since the dawn of time and the history of Bodrum originates with their existence.
Archaeologists found caves with remains dating back over 100,000 years. Asia Minor, where we call Anatolia today, is also where humanity discovered agriculture and domesticated animals like sheep and goats.
West and south-west coasts of Turkey were the hubs where new advancements reached the western world through the Mediterranean.
Heredotus referred as the father of History, was born in Halicarnassus, today's Bodrum. He was also the first reliable source of information who mentioned Halicarnassus in his legendary works 'Odyssey' and 'The Histories' which he also provides a lot of details about his hometown.
According to Herodotus, the native population was Lelegians and Around 1200 BC, Dorians of the Balkans came from the north and passed through the Aegean islands to invade Anatolia.
At the beginning of the 7th century, 6 important Aegean cities – Halicarnassus, Kos, Cnidos, Ialysos, Kamerios, and Lindos formed the Dorian Confederation and ruled the whole region. Halicarnassus was expelled from the confederation later on.
The city fell under the control of the Lydian Kings and remained as a part of Lydian Kingdom until Persians came and took over the throne in 546 BC.
The Persian Period and Satrap Mausolus
Persian strategy over the conquered lands was simple and effective: assigning a local governor – a satrap – and giving him freedom in decisions related to interior affairs. When Persians declare war on a nation, satrap should answer the emperor’s call to rally the troops to the battle on Persian side.
Halicarnassus had always been loyal to its mighty conquerors and followed every order including fighting on the Persian side during the invasion of Greece in 480 BC in the reign of Xerxes.
The most famous and successful satrap – also a tyrant – was Mausolus who filled the post between 377 BC and 353 BC. One of the first moves of this accomplished politician was to transfer the capital from Mylasa – today’s Milas – to Halicarnassus. He was aware of the tactical value of having a port city as the capital.
Mausolus had also some aesthetic concerns and started another big project: rebuilding Halicarnassus by inviting architects from Greece. He was shaping the history of Bodrum.
As the city was changing appearance, Mausolus was after new achievements. He militarily captured the island of Rhodes and developed the whole area from Myndos (the western end of Bodrum peninsula) to Kaunos (west of Dalyan).
After his death, he was succeeded by his wife – and sister – Artemisia II whose fame came from fighting against the Rhodian fleet. She also undertook the building of a tomb for her dead husband – Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. It was the satrap’s dream to reach eternity with a monumental tomb after leaving the material world. His resting place was going to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Not sure about his soul but certainly, his name has reached eternity. The story behind the Mausoleum has been carried over thousands of years. Today, this word is still used for monuments that have interment spaces or burial chambers in many languages, including Turkish – Mozole.
At the beginning of the 4th century BC, another famous character appeared in the history of Bodrum - Alexander the Great.
In 333 He Hellenized the city by throwing down all the new buildings at the time but left Mausoleum unharmed and intact. Alexander’s heirs remained in control during the 3rd and the 2nd centuries BC.
In 189BC, the Romans came in. In 129 BC, they founded the first Anatolian state and the Carian region became a part of the Asian territory of the Roman Empire just before the power struggles shook the world’s largest nation.
In 43 BC, Brutus, and Cassius assassinated Emperor Cesar in Rome. Sadly, the assassins’ headquarter was in Myndos (today’s Gumusluk, north-east of Bodrum Peninsula). It was bad news. Being known as the base of Cesar’s killers highly damaged the reputation of Halicarnassus and the region went under constant humiliation and exploitation later.
In 395AD, when the empire was divided into two, the Byzantine Empire – or the East Roman Empire – was the new city owner. It was not as powerful as it was before the separation so the Arabian raids to the old Carian lands had started. Carian civilization was fading away like other 45 Anatolian civilizations in the history of Turkey and the Romans had no intention or power to avoid that from happening.
The Ottoman and The Knights of St. John
In the 13th century, the indigenous population was mainly Turks. A member of the Anatolian Union, the Beylic of Mentese, was ruling the southwest of Turkey including Halicarnassus.
In 1402, the Ottoman Sultan Yildirim Beyazid was defeated by Timur the Lame at the battle of Ankara. Timur had also attacked Smyrna – today’s Izmir – and destroyed a castle owned by Knights of St. John, an order from the island of Rhodes.
The knights were going through hard times. They had just lost a strategic castle that should be replaced with a new one as soon as possible. They were so desperate that they went to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet I – son of Yildirim Beyazid – to ask permission to build a new castle. Despite the objections of Beylic of Mentese, the Sultan gave them Halicarnassus. The history of Bodrum had changed direction once again.
Knight Hospitaller started to build a new castle over an existing fortress built by the Beylic of Mentese. The construction of one of the most important symbols of today’s Bodrum – yes, I mean the Bodrum Castle – took about 120 years with various interruptions.
Another Turkish Sultan, Suleyman the Magnificent, sieged the Island of Rhodes where the headquarters of the Knights was located in 1523. Rhodes fell and all the knights had to retreat to Malta leaving Halicarnassus back to the Ottomans.
Evliya Celebi was an Ottoman Turk who traveled the empire and its surroundings for over 40 years. In his famous travelogue called “Seyahatname”, he says that the Bodrum harbor had a capacity for 200 large battleships. It was 1675 and 100 years later, this capacity had to be put to use.
In 1775, Russians set the Ottoman fleet on fire in Cesme harbor which is to the north of Bodrum. The Empire could not afford a weak navy and Admiral Mustafa Pasha had to do something.
To replace the ships lost in a fire, the admiral ordered the building of a new shipyard in Bodrum. The fleet should have been more powerful than ever. The Ottoman Shipyard which is located next to the marina today built several galleons varying from 38 meters to 47 meters between 1784 and 1831.
During the First World War, the French and the British warships fired their cannons towards the city at every opportunity, yet the city did not fall.
When the war ended in 1918, the Ottoman Empire was about to be divided into pieces. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had organized resistance and his army was fighting for freedom in the Turkish War of Independence against many nations. During this war, in 1919 the Italians occupied Bodrum and was taken back two years later in 1921 with a treaty before the declaration of Independence.
1. Explore the Castle of St Peter
History buffs will love to spend the day taking a leisurely stroll around one of Turkey's most famous landmarks in Bodrum Town. The towering, 15th century castle was built by the Knights Hospitaller, and today you'll see it overlooking the glistening water in the harbour. There's an informative museum spread around the castle, too.
2. Wonder at Ancient Halicarnassus
When you visit Bodrum, you'll have the chance to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus dates all the way back to the 4th century BC, and this spectacular ancient site is a testament to its time. The grand tomb was built by famous sculptors as an elaborate resting place for Mausolus, the great ruler of the region. Today you can explore what remains.
3. Sunbathe on Bitez Bay
You'll find this sun-soaked spot just 7km from the heart of Bodrum Town, and it's an ideal place to relax. Sit back on the honey-coloured beach or grab a woven hammock and take a dip in the shallow, blue waters of the warm Mediterranean Sea. You can even try your hand at watersports if you like. And when you're ready to refuel, you'll find lots of lovely bars and restaurants within easy reach.
4. Bazaar Ramble in Turkbuku
Fancy some retail therapy? Head over to the charming town of Tϋrkbϋkϋ, otherwise known as Turkey's St Tropez. It's brimming with picturesque streets and quaint little shops selling homemade jewellery and souvenirs. Plus there are some chic designer boutiques, too. Then it's time to move to the beach, where you'll find sunloungers and canopy tents along the wooden promenade. This place has an air of exclusivity about it for sure!
5. Head for the Temple of Apollo
Just outside Altinkum, you can explore a part of the ancient world. The Temple of Apollo is marble temple constructed with 120 giant columns, tunnels and a sacred spring, and today you can visit the ruins. There's a small fee to enter, but it's well worth the ticket price to see this fascinating archaeological site. Walk over the ancient stone, pass through ancient passageways and you'll feel like you've stepped back in time.
6. Visit Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology
Museum of Underwater Archaeology is located inside the Bodrum Castle . The Knights of St. John built the original castle between 1402 and 1409. Today the rooms of the castle serve as a museum since being established in 1964.
The museum exhibits a collection of fascinating relics from the lives of ancient, shipwrecked mariners, with glassware, copper-ware and gold items from the ship on display. The Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology is also home to the one of world’s oldest known shipwrecks.
7. See Bodrum Windmills
A refreshing hike up to the Bodrum windmills lets you stretch your legs and discover one of the gorgeous old sites on the Turkish Peninsula. Quite remote from other attractions in and around Bodrum, these windmills stand in blissful silence above the harbour.
The history of Bodrum Shipyard which is located next to the marina today dates back to 1775 when Russians set the Ottoman fleet on fire in Cesme harbor which is to the north of Bodrum. The Empire could not afford a weak navy and Admiral Mustafa Pasha had to do something. To replace the ships lost in a fire, the admiral ordered the building of a new shipyard in Bodrum. The fleet should have been more powerful than ever. The Ottoman built several galleons varying from 38 meters to 47 meters between 1784 and 1831.
Until the 1970s, only ‘Tirhandil type’ fishing boats were constructed at the shipyards of Bodrum. The boats were 8-10 meters in length and built only to accommodate a handful number of fishermen, cruising the shores for sponge diving and fishing purposes.
As Yacht tourism in Turkey developed with the arrival of West European and American tourists to the Turkish coastlines from the Greek Islands towards the end of the 1970s, the design of the ships began to take a more important role.
To meet the increasing demand, the locals of Bodrum started building the very first examples of today’s worldwide known and named after the town itself ‘Bodrum archetype gulets’.
Over time, the types, shapes, lengths, and features of the boats have changed and expanded into categories.
These wooden vessels have been designed to withstand the strength of famous Mediterranean waves and strong winds with their oval shape and traditional two masts and yet have the comfort to accommodate seafarers for an extended stay on the seas. They also increased the boat lengths up to 14-16 meters which set an example for the other shipyards.
It is well-known in Turkey that tangerines were brought from the eastern Aegean islands and Palestine in the early 20th century as the tangerine saplings were planted in the gardens between 1947-1950.
The fruit is blessed by the Zephyrus winds and a Sea-scented breeze blowing through the leaves and the trees as the famous Bodrum Tangerine found its true ecology in Bodrum. Fall brings warm days and cool night conditions to the area. Conditions that are ideal for growing colorful, sweet, ripe, and delicious citrus, giving its distinct flavor.
It is the first product of the region to receive geographical indication registration. The trees of the Bodrum Mandarin, which is also named as the "Fragrant Mandarin" with its original smell and taste, are medium-sized and the number of branches on the trees is much higher than other tangerine species.
The rind of the fruit is easy to peel off and has a unique fragrance due to the essential oils in the peel. There is an average of 19 seeds in each tangerine.
Tangerine trees bloom in April-May. The longer these mandarins hang on to the trees, the sweeter they become. By the end of October, the colors start to show, and a week or so into November, the first of the crop is ready to be picked.
In December, it reaches full maturity and gains its perfect smell and taste. It is the harvest period from December 15 to the end of February.
Around 625,000 tangerine trees left their mark on the economy until the '80s. After the rapid development of tourism, tangerine gardens are sold one by one. Tourism and agriculture cannot go hand in hand and as a result, Bodrum tangerine lost its economic value.
Over time, gardens are replaced by residences and touristic facilities. The number of trees in the district is decreasing to 140,000.
Bodrum Manderin Festival
Every year in the last week of December, locals gather to celebrate the "Bodrum Tangerine Harvest Festival.
Bodrum International Ballet Festival
Every year in July and August, One of the world’s leading ballet festivals is coordinated by the State Opera and Ballet and welcomes outstanding ballet organizations from Turkey and the world. The festival offers an exclusive experience in the majestic atmosphere of Bodrum Castle.
The International Bodrum Dance Festival
The festival is on the UNESCO Calendar of Cultural Events as one of the biggest dance festivals in Europe and takes place annually in May.
Bodrum Cup Yacht Race and the International Bodrum Yacht Show
Every year in October, one of the biggest yacht races in the Mediterranean takes place in Bodrum since 1989.