Engineering the 7 Wonders of the World: Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Before modern technology existed, civilizations built incredible structures and sculptures that would live on in infamy. This is the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.

You know you made it in life when your tomb becomes one of the 7 wonders of the world. The mausoleum at Halicarnassus was built between 353 and 350 B.C. to house the body of a prince of the Persian empire and wife. At a height of 148 feet, it was also one of the tallest structures in existence at the time. This wonder is actually where the term Mausoleum comes from, as the prince that it was built for was named Mausolus, and thus was buried in this above ground tomb.

The structure was commissioned by Mausolus’ sister, who also happened to be his wife; this was actually common practice for Persian rulers in that day. No expense was to be spared on the building of the structure, so messengers were sent out to source the best artisans from across the known world. Nearly all of the world’s most famous sculptors were brought in for the project, and each was supplied with teams of craftsmen to help them at their task. Since there were so many sculptors involved in the project, there was also subsequently very different design styles. The final structure was finished in the styles of Egyptian, Greek and Lycian cultures.

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Built on a hill at the center of a courtyard on a stone platform, other than the pyramids, the Mausoleum is likely the tallest tomb structure ever built. Sculptures of goddesses and warriors on horseback surrounded the courtyard to protect the king held within.

The structure itself was made mostly out of marble. This heavy stone was used to create a tapering substructure to the mausoleum that eventually was built up to a 140-foot height. On the lower half of the structure, there was a relief created through collaboration of sculptors depicting Greek mythology. Moving on from the Greek base, there were 36 intricately carved columns surrounding the building. These columns were quite necessary to hold the large and traditional marble roof. This roof was made to be pyramidal with 24 different levels. The final structure gives semblance to 3 separate structures stacked on top of one another. Quite the place to be buried.

Given that the structure was placed at the top of a hill in the middle of the city, much care was taken to strengthen the heavy building’s foundation. A stone base was first built to provide a solid platform for the structure, which would keep the building safe for the next 1500 years. The mausoleum at Halicarnassus was ultimately destroyed in an earthquake sometime between the 12th and 15th century B.C.

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One of the most astounding things about ancient construction was the fact that for the most part, the large stone wonders built suffered very little damage from ground settling. While this may be true, stone construction is also one of the worst methods for mitigating seismic loading. If you look through the 7 wonders of the world, all of the stone structures were either damaged or destroyed by earthquakes. The exception being the Pyramids, which are still standing today.

While this tomb was tall and magnificent, it was included on the list of the 7 ancient wonders of the world due to its aesthetic nature. There was no other structure ever built in ancient times that featured the collaboration of the world’s top sculptors. As much as we engineers don’t like to admit it, sometimes it takes the mind of an architect or designer to put our engineering on the map.

Sources: UnmuseumAncient OriginsSoft Schools

Image Sources: [1][2][3]

Profile photo of Trevor English
Trevor is a civil engineer by trade and an accomplished internet blogger with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author whose most recent book, ZOOM Go the Vehicles, is aimed at inspiring young kids to have an interest in engineering.


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