The murky water in Dock No.1 in Cospicua has witnessed much history over the years. Nobody ever imagined, however, that lying underneath could be the remains of an ancient Turkish wonder – the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
No one, that is, but oncologist Stephen Brincat, who came across this precious piece of information while reading an article about the excavations of the site by the British in the 19th century in the Turkish magazine Cornucopia.
“There was one sentence which said that the wall of the mausoleum was dismantled to build a dock in Malta,” Dr Brincat said.
Blocks of marble that made up a wall of the mausoleum, built more than 300 years BC, are believed to be submerged in the dock, which is expected to be soon embellished in a €10 to €12 million project.
Armed with this piece of information, Dr Brincat, a history lover, started studying local archives to find out more. He struck gold when he found that what is today known as Dock No. 1 was built at the time when British archaeologist Charles Newton excavated the site in Bodrum, Turkey, and shipped crates of sculptures and other antiquities to London’s British Museum, which had commissioned the excavations.
According to Dr Brincat’s research, the Royal Navy ship HMS Supply, laden with crates of antique treasures, entered Grand Harbour in 1858, a year after the foundation stone of the dock was laid.
Mr Newton had justified the dismantling of the mausoleum wall by saying that it would have been broken up and used by natives of Bodrum anyway. He therefore removed it to be used in a “public object”, which Dr Brincat traced as being the Cospicua dock that had taken some six years to build.
When contacted, Prof. Anthony Bonanno, the head of University’s Department of Classics and Archaeology, was unaware of Dr Brincat’s lead but said he was “not terribly surprised”.
Prof. Bonanno said Malta had been used in the past for the loading and unloading of antiquities. In fact, the Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures found at the British Museum, had passed through Malta, lying in the docks for several years on the way from Greece to England.
Emmanuel Magro Conti, senior curator at Heritage Malta’s Maritime and Military Collections, was also unaware of the use of the antique blocks in the building of the Cospicua dock.
“The plans of the dock show building blocks, but do not mention details of what materials were used or from where the blocks originated,” he said.
The mystery remains hidden under water which is so murky that it is impossible to see the bottom.
Dr Brincat had to paddle in a canoe to get to the area and admits that there is probably little to see.
After all, they are nothing more than blocks of stone. The only difference is that centuries ago, they were part of one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.
Interesting suggestion, but I’m not sure why Newton would bother to ship antiquities that far, just to dump them in the water. The ‘public object’ intended surely wasn’t in Malta …