The Castle of St. Peter the Liberator of the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Rhodes – to give it its full, comprehensive title – is Bodrum’s acclaimed landmark. Over the period of six centuries it has served as a military garrison, a compound enclosing a tiny village, and even as a fortress prison. Today it houses one of the finest museums of nautical archaeology in the world.
The castle is built on a promontory which, according to Herodotus, was a small island called Zephyria at the time of the first Dorian invasions which occurred around the time of the Trojan Wars. By the time king Mausolus (377-353 BC) came to rule Caria and moved the capital from Mylasa to Halicarnassus, today’s Bodrum, Zephyrion was already a small peninsula joined to the mainland by debris and landfill.
This peninsula is believed to have been the location of Mausolus’s palace built near the site of an Early Classical temple of Apollo, although some authorities prefer to place the presumed venue of the palace on the mainland just north of the peninsula. The highly strategic nature of the promontory strongly supports the view that it was indeed the site of the palace or citadel, but unfortunately there is no solid proof of this in ancient sources and all possible vestiges have long since disappeared.
The destruction of an edifice on the promontory dating to that early era – if one did exist – may have occurred when the city was captured by the Macedonian forces of Alexander the Great or, perhaps, in the Arab raids in the latter half of the seventh century AD when Rhodes and Cos were overrun, although Halicarnassus is not specifically mentioned among their conquests. A structure there also may have fallen prey to an earthquake.
History does record, however, and our own eyes bear witness today, that a medieval castle was built on the small rocky peninsula on the east side of Bodrum harbor and records show that this castle was built by a company of men collectively known as the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Rhodes. Who were these men? When, why and how did they build the castle? Click to learn more.