Its massive battlemented walls, five towers and seven
gates show that it was once a fortress of note. Numerous
inscriptions and coats-of-arms embedded at various points
in the structure testify to its medieval, multi-national
Crusader origins - there are no visible traces left
of previous Carian, Roman, Byzantine and Seljuk construction.
Though their proprietorship of the castle lasted only
some 120 years, the prevailing aura today is still of
its Crusader builders, the Knights Hospitaller of St.
John. This is due to a large extent to the castle’s
restoration and accentuation with period furnishings
done by Turkish authorities after its transformation
into a museum.
period of the Bodrum Castle may be of particular interest
to the western visitor due to many associations with
historical events which have made lasting impressions
on European heritage and culture. Such interest presupposes
some knowledge of medieval European history or, at least,
some familiarity with Shakespeare. Why Shakespeare?
Because, in the play “Henry IV”, the Bard
mentions by name a number of the English knights who
fought in the battle of Agincourt - the roll-call of
honor includes Bedford, Exeter, Warwick, Salisbury and
Gloucester - whose coats-of-arms can be seen today above
the portal of the English Tower. These escutcheons are
an acknowledgement of their owners’ financial
contributions to the construction of the tower, what
is known today as ‘sponsorship’.
Very appropriately there are also many reminders of
French presence here since a Frenchman, Philibert de
Naillac, was the Grand Master of the Order when the
castle was founded. When we look at the royal arms of
France in the north wall perhaps some will remember
that the inscribed date, 1460, was near the end of the
reign of Charles VII whose coronation was made possible
by Jeanne d’Arc’s victory over the English
at Orleans. It is interesting to speculate how French
and English knights coexisted in Bodrum when their native
lands were at war with each other...
German visitors can admire the handiwork of their countryman
Henrik Schlegelholdt, the chief architect of the fortress.
The restored German Tower bears the escutcheon of the
German Langue or “Tongue”. This designation
identified knights within the Order by their linguistic
groups, language being the primary indicator of their
nationality. By the 1400s there were few German knights
in the Hospitaller Order, most preferring to enlist
in the Order of Teutonic Knights active in Prussia.
Spaniards and Italians can also find traces left by
their countrymen in the Bodrum Castle, associations
that fill out the tapestry of fifteenth century in Western
This medieval aspect of the castle blends well with
its second face reflecting its current status as one
of the world’s finest museums of underwater archaeology.
Amphoras strewn around castle grounds set the atmosphere
for visits to exhibits of superb artifacts recovered
from ancient shipwrecks, a reconstructed wreck and displays
of the underwater excavation process. The harmony between
the ancient maritime exhibits and the medieval setting
third, mostly forgotten face of the Bodrum Castle is
that of a prison, established as such in 1893 in the
reign of Abdulhamid II. This sultan, known for his phobia
of plots against his absolute rule and his suppression
of civil liberties, had many champions of freedom sent
into exile or imprisoned, some in the Bodrum Castle.
But not only supporters of liberty were jailed here.
When reactionary fanatics tried to have Islamic religious
law (Seriat) re-imposed after liberal laws were enacted,
two of their foremost rabble-rousers were sentenced
to life imprisonment in the Bodrum Castle when the rebellion
Some captured mountain robbers also spent time behind
the castle walls. After the turn of the century bands
of outlaws infested the mountains and forests robbing
the rich and, sometimes, helping the poor. Some of their
leaders, known as “Efe”, have been immortalized
in folk songs and their dignified, deliberate demeanor
and colorful dress can be readily seen in Aegean folk
costumes and dances.