The Civil Courts Building and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Tower Drove Park, Downtown and Calvary Cemetery 027

Update: I wrote a more extensive article about this building at St. Louis Magazine.

Many St. Louisans are aware that our great Beaux-Arts axis in downtown, the Civil Courts Building, is based off of the great Hellenistic Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. The Mausoleum, located in modern-day Turkey (not Iraq, as a text panel in the courthouse says) is now nothing more than a pile of rubble, with its choicest sculptural remnants now exhibited in the British Museum in London. The Civil Courts fairly accurately reproduces at least the gist of the original Mausoleum, but instead of the uniform central tower below the colonnade in St. Louis, in Halicarnassus we would have seen a three tiered pedestal. Likewise, the Civil Courts may be elegantly decorated, but the original Mausoleum was famed for its myriad mid-relief and free-standing sculptures. Let’s look at these sculptures, and talk about where they would go if transported to St. Louis and placed in the corresponding location on the courthouse.

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These two sculptures, identified in more romantic times as King Mausolus and Queen Artemisia, the inhabitants of the Mausoleum, are now listed as “unknown” by more cooly objective curators. Perhaps they were located in between the Ionic columns of the colonnade.

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The sculpting is superb, and one must marvel at the condition considering that these sculptures theoretically fell from a great height when the Mausoleum was felled by an earthquake (Crusaders later finished the job while fortifying nearby Bodrum Castle against the Turks).

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The mid-relief sculpture, as seen below, wrapped completely around the exterior of the building on the three-tired pedestal.

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If I remember correctly, it depicts a battle with Amazons.

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A series of lions guarded the stepped pyramid structure; below you can see one of the felines, guarding over the gallery in the British Museum now.

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The real stunner is the horse head, which almost certainly came from the chariot, or quadriga, on top of the stepped pyramid. It fell 140 meters, and still looks on proudly.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Roger Emmerson says:

    I’m an architect and architectural writer in Scotland. I’ve just completed a paper on a smaller version of the Mausoleum which terminates a department store in Princes Street, Edinburgh, designed in 1906, and on which I led a restoration project in 2016. I was interested to find other examples and was delighted to come across this one from St Louis. I had already found the Temple of the Scottish Rite in Washington DC and Harry Gordon Selfridge’s proposal for one on top of his department store in Oxford Street in London. Thanks again for posting.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Roger, I also wrote a more extensive article about the Civil Courts Building here:
      I loved Edinburgh when I visited back in January of 2013.

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