As we thumbed through the beautiful coffee table book on Turkey’s UNESCO sites, one caught our attention….Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağ in Turkish). We were in Safranbolu, itself a UNESCO heritage listed town, where our hotel owner was a noted historian. Questions, answers and discussions followed and before we knew it, Mt Nemrut had been included in our itinerary between our stays at Gaziantep (Antep) and Sanliurfa (Urfa).
A quick history
The breakup of Alexander the Great’s empire created new kingdoms, one of which was the Commagene Kingdom, a small kingdom in southern Anatolia that had Greek and Armenian influences in its culture.
In 62BC, the ruler of the Commagene Kingdom at the time, King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene, built for himself a tumulus or funeral mound on top of Mt Nemrut in the eastern Taurus Mountains of Turkey. He surrounded it with statues of Greek and Persian gods, two lions and two eagles. At some time, these statues were beheaded and this is how we now see them.
No one knows why the statues were beheaded. One theory is that it was intentional because of a belief in iconoclasm as there is damage to the noses. Extreme weather conditions have also played a part in making it hard to determine exactly when and why this happened.
Mt Nemrut is high…over 2000 metres above sea level with stunning views over the Euphrates Valley. It lies about 40 kms north of the town of Kahta. The site was discovered by Charles Sester, an engineer, in 1881 but explorations did not start until 1953. Even today, the interior layout of the tumulus is unknown.
Mt Nemrut’s Statues
The walk up the mountain is not hard…just long! Steps following the original ceremonial routes take you to the east terrace and descend from the west terrace. Except for the last one hundred metres to the east terrace, where there are no steps, the climb was fairly uneventful….take it slowly and stop often to take in the view!
As we rounded the corner of the east terrace, I was quite taken back by the sheer size and magnitude of the statues. They were truly magnificent!’
The effort required to build this funeral mound must have been massive. Stone chips cover the forty nine metre high by funerary mound that has a one hundred and fifty two metre diameter. The statues stand nearly seven metres tall and some of the blocks here are believed to weigh over nine tonnes. I have read that highly developed technology must have been was used to build it…technology that hasn’t been seen elsewhere!
The East Terrace
Five seated limestone statues of gods…four male and one female stand in a row with statues of a lion and an eagle at each end. Inscriptions on the statues identify them as Apollo, the goddess Tyche of Commagene, Zeus, Antiochos himself and Hercules. The statues are well preserved. The heads have fallen to a lower level and now stand upright where they fell.
The same statues are on the western terrace, again flanked by pairs of lions and eagles. However there is no altar here.
If you’re heading to Gaziantep and Urfa, don’t neglect to include Mt Nemrut in your itinerary…it was one of the highlights of our visit to this area of Turkey.
A few points to know for your visit ….
Where to Stay
Kahta: Daily tours are available from Kahta to Mt Nemrut. The drive is about 1 hour. A lot of hotels will arrange these tours for you and often seem to include them in the price of your stay. The only advantage I can see of staying here is that the drive up the mountain to Mt Nemrut is fabulous if you don’t mind heights and windy roads!
Karadut: This tiny village is only 12 kms from the entrance to Mt Nemrut. We stayed here at a VERY simple/basic pension called the Nemrut Kervansaray (ask for the new rooms and don’t swim in the green pool!) We arranged for their driver to take us for a tour to the visit the Karakuş tumulus tomb and the Roman bridge at Cendere before heading up to Mt Nemrut for sunset. You can live without seeing these but the drive up the mountain to Mt Nemrut from this side was worth it! There are entrance gates to Mt Nemrut from both these roads ..one on the Kahta side and the other on the Karadut side. An entrance fee is payable to go to Mt Nemrut.
Most tours to Mt Nemrut run between May and the end of October.
Sunrise or sunset is the best time to visit Mt Nemrut though they are the busiest times of the day.
It can be very cold on Mt Nemrut so it’s best to choose a time that suits you. Sunrise tours usually leave about 2.30/ 3 o’clock in the morning!! We decided to go at sunset but unfortunately,on the day, it was overcast and the sun was no where to be seen!!
Usually you walk up to the eastern terrace and descend from the western terrace. Facing the mountain this means that you take the right hand stairs up and descend on the left hand set of stairs (which we did)
HOWEVER I think it would be easier to go up the mountain on the left hand side stairs. One of the guides agreed with me that it wasn’t as steep! If you try this, please let me know how you found it.
Mules are available if you prefer not to walk!