sBodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum, Bodrum, Turkey - Tour Packages Turkey
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   Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum

The transformation of a ruined, dilapidated castle into a great museum of world importance was the work of vision, conviction and perseverance and, as is usual with all living organisms, time elapsed between conception and birth. The first seed was sown in 1958 by Peter Throckmorton, an American journalist-diver whose pioneering efforts - brought to fruition by Prof. George F. Bass - inaugurated scientific nautical archaeology.

An early and enthusiastic convert to Throckmorton's vision of the castle as a museum was Hakki Gultekin, the director of the Izmir Museum, who brought this matter to the attention of the central government authorities in Ankara. The cause was also championed in the national press by Azra Erhad, a respected academic and the co-translator of such Classical works as the Iliad and the Odyssey into Turkish. These efforts resulted in the first grant of government funds (1959) and the placement of the castle under the jurisdiction of the Bodrum director of education, raising it from the status of an abandoned former prison.

The Knights' Hall, with its graceful vaulted ceiling, became the nucleus of the museum-to-be when it became the repository of amphoras previously recovered by Turkish sponge divers as well as of the first artifacts excavated from under the sea by Captain Kemal Aras, Peter Throckmorton, Mustafa Kapkin and Honor Frost, all members of the initial explorations of coastal wrecks. These early initiatives and continued perseverance were rewarded in 1961 when the Turkish government, by official decree, created the Bodrum Museum in the castle under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, appointing Haluk Elbe as its first director.

It was during his tenure, between 1961 and 1973, that the work of restoration of the ruined castle began with repairs of the southern walls and of the knights' chapel which had been turned into a mosque by the Ottomans. This venue became the museum's first exhibit hall to be opened to the public (1963) at which time it housed the Mycenaean Collection, artifacts of the Mycenaean period excavated on the Bodrum peninsula near the village of Dirmil.

During these years the Knights' Hall was also properly restored and assigned to house the Carian or Classical Collection while artifacts recovered from the sea were exhibited in an adjunct building to the west. Haluk Elbe also planted many of the trees and shrubs that today make the grounds of the castle so attractive. He is commemorated by having the Haluk Elbe Art Gallery at the entrance to the castle named in his honor.

After the departure of Haluk Elbe, under directors Nurettin Yardimci (1973-1975) and Ilhan Aksit (1976-1978), the pace of restoration of the castle and the development of the museum slowed down, with the significant exception of the English Tower which was repaired in 1975. It was resumed and accelerated with the appointment of Oguz Alpozen to the museum directorship in 1978.

By the time he was appointed museum director Oguz Alpozen had already been associated with the museum in one capacity or another since 1962 when, as a student, he participated in the underwater excavations under the leadership of George Bass. In later years, until 1971, he took part in these excavations both as a qualified diver and as a commissioner representing the Turkish Ministry of Culture, so when he assumed the directorship of the museum he was already a champion of underwater archaeology.

Realizing that this new field of science was of immense value in uncovering the mysteries of the past, and determined to keep the results of the excavations in Bodrum, Alpozen prevailed upon the authorities to re-designate the museum as the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

With this stress on the nautical archaeology role in mind Alpozen then proceeded to complete the restoration and beautification work started by Haluk Elbe making additional venues available for the exposition of artifacts recovered from the sea. This emphasis also allowed the museum to cooperate more closely with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) which, with its academic and financial resources, was able to continue making trail-blazing underwater excavations which drew world-wide attention to Bodrum. Finds, such as the "Oldest Known Shipwreck", became known not only in specialist circles but also among the wider public due to reports in the prestigious National Geographic magazine making the Bodrum museum a prime attraction for visitors from all over the world.

Just when these stunning underwater discoveries and recoveries were being made fate intervened to redress the balance, directing everyone's attention once again towards treasures still buried beneath the earth. In 1989 an earth-moving backhoe, digging for the foundations of a new building, brought to light a sarcophagus containing the remains of a clearly wealthy woman and excitement reached a peak when preliminary scrutiny indicated that these may belong to Queen Ada of the Hecatomnid dynasty that included Mausolus, the renowned ruler of Caria. The fascinating story associated with this find and the befitting venue created for its display will be found in the exhibits section detailed elsewhere on this site.

Another intervention of fate took place in 1993 when excavations in front of the English Tower brought to light the remains of prisoners chained together in the manner known to have been used for galley slaves. These unknown victims of past cruelty and callousness had been discarded in the castle's trash pile, so they called for more humane remembrance. They were given a place, and they were assigned the sad but illuminating posthumous task of giving the passing visitor reason to pause and reflect on this blemish on the romantic and partisan picture all too often painted of medieval knighthood in the West.

Even the most instructive, impressive or rare relics of the past, however, fail to captivate unless displayed in a manner that makes them appealing to the viewer, and this is the field in which the Bodrum Museum excels. Convinced that museum items must be displayed in a relevant context in order to attract and keep public interest, Oguz Alpozen directed the creation of graphic tableaux which brought life and meaning to objects that normally would hold only the interest of scholars.

Care has also been given to the ambiance of the totality of the museum - including the grounds and facilities - with the result that it has become a place where it is a pleasure to be, and it is this novel and creative approach that places the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology among the finest museums in the world. To the extent possible we have tried to convey the sense of the museum in the various sections of this site, but virtual reality cannot recreate the fragrance of flowers or the gentle caress of the Aegean breeze.

 

 
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