The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

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.

Drive to the tumulus

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! 

Steps to the top of Mt Nemrut

 

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 Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

 

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 Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

The heads of Apollo, Tyche, Zeus, Antiochus and Hercules lay at the feet of their statues

 

The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

 

The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

The heads of Antiochus and Hercules are flanked by an eagle and a lion

 

The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

 

A lion stands at the side of the altar on the eastern terrace, Mount Nemrut

A lion stands at the side of the altar on the eastern terrace

 

The view as you walk from the eastern terrace to the west at Mount Nemrut

The view as you walk from the eastern terrace to the west.

 

West Terrace
The same statues are on the western terrace, again flanked by pairs of lions and eagles. However there is no altar here.

The Gods on the western terrace of Mount Nemrut

 

The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

 

 

The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

 

The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

A close up of the features of the faces of Antiochus, Tyche and Hercules

 

The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

The goddess Tyche of Commagene with the eagle and lion in the background

 

Reliefs on the Western Terrace of Mt Nemrut

At the end of the terrace are three reliefs showing Antiochus shaking hands with Apollo, Zeus and Hercules.

 

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! 

Drive to Mt Nemrut

The Euphrates Valley, The Roman Bridge and the Karakuş tumulus tomb

 

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!

 

References:
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/448
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Nemrut

 

 

 

Related articles you may enjoy reading
The Best Icecream in Turkey
Istanbul’s Stunning Chora Museum
Istanbul’s Aya Sofia Museum

 

 

 

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38 Responses to The Headless Gods of Mount Nemrut

  1. Turkey's For Life February 5, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    We’ve wanted to go to Nemrut for an absolute age but will save it for when we finally make it to Gaziantep, too. Love your photos. It’s made us want to go even more now. 🙂
    Julia

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      YOu will love it Julia…and Gaziantep (my favourite!!) Don’t forget Urfa as well…it’s the perfect road trip!

  2. jennfer February 5, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    This has been on my bucket list for quite some time now.

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      It’s worthy of being towards the top Jennifer and there’s some fabulous towns around it as well!

  3. Leigh February 6, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Not only are the statues outstanding but the location and scenery are spectacular – the kind of rocky, desolate terrain I love. That’s an early hour to head for sunrise but I can only imagine how beautiful it could be. I would definitely include this trip on a Turkish itinerary.

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

      If the sun had been out, sunset would be fabulous as well Leigh. I don’t think it matters what time of day you go so long as you do see it! I’m surprised that more people don’t go there!

  4. budget jan February 6, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Isn’t it wonderful when a site with a lot of hype around it, actually lives up to our expectations. Rounding the corner and seeing how huge the statues were would have been a goosebump experience. I never realized there were steps leading to the top of the mountain. They look fairly new. I am so glad you did this trip, your photos give us a wonderful view into Mt. Nemrut and it’s headless gods. I am working on a post from Dogubayazit in the far east of Turkey and the land around Nemrut looks very similar to the land over there. I love that country.

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

      They are fairly new Jan…thank heavens for them! I loved this part of Turkey…very tempted to go back! Looking forward to your post on Dogubayazit as we could head that way later this year!

  5. [email protected] February 6, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    The walk has to be a wonderful experience by itself. Then to see these statutes that are so massive has to be breathtaking.

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

      It was breathtaking Neva. I have never seen anything like this…the statues were massive!

  6. Johanna February 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    Wow, the walk looks amazing with those far reaching views. I can imagine how the statues and their size took your breath away. I love it how trips begin with a conversation, or a recommendation, and perhaps because they have not been premeditated they are all the more eye-opening.

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

      So true Jo. One of the pleasures of not planning a trip too much is the freedom to find places along the way that entice you to visit. It’s amazing how often little conversations lead you to a fabulous site!Mt Nemrut was certainly worth the deviation!

  7. Krista February 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Oh wow! What a stunning and fascinating place. Beautifully captured, Jenny. 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

      Thanks Krista. It really was one of the highlights of our trip!

  8. Muza-chan February 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    Amazing!

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

      The perfect word to describe Mt Nemrut Lili!

  9. @ChristineSalins February 6, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    What a fabulous post, Jenny. I’d love to visit one day!

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      Thanks Christine. It definitely is one not to miss and a great reason to explore more of this fabulous country!

  10. Marcia February 7, 2014 at 12:00 am #

    Wow, thank you for taking us with you on this magnificent trip! I love stone sculptures, they always leave me in awe. At 7 meters high, these are quite impressive. Love the starkness of the area as well. Have made a note of this for when I get to Turkey, hopefully soon. Thanks again, Jenny.

    • Jenny Freedman February 7, 2014 at 11:19 am #

      My pleasure Marcia! It certainly is a place worthy of being on your itinerary. It’s easy to visit between seeing the towns of Gaziantep and Urfa.

  11. Heather February 7, 2014 at 4:50 am #

    I’ve wanted to go to Turkey for ages, but am overwhelmed by the sheer number of things there I want to see. I envy the amount of time you got to spend exploring every nook and cranny! This place is breathtaking and will be added to my ever-growing list.

    • Jenny Freedman February 7, 2014 at 11:21 am #

      You’ll be able to pop over there for the weekends soon Heather! Even with the time we had, we didn’t even touch on the eastern part of Turkey.At least it gives us a reason to come back!

  12. Lisa Goodmurphy February 7, 2014 at 5:30 am #

    What an amazing site to visit! My 10 year-old, much to the surprise of many, loves to visit historical sites such as this particularly if there is any connection to mythological gods and I’m certain she would enjoy visiting Mount Nemrut. We spent 2 days in Istanbul and a day in Kusadasi on a Mediterranean cruise and would love to return to see more of Turkey!

    • Jenny Freedman February 7, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      Emma would love to visit Mr Nemrut Lisa! Istanbul needs quite a bit of time just to be able to see all the wondrous cites in the city let alone getting our into the country! We still have a lot more to see too!

  13. Jackie Smith February 7, 2014 at 6:08 am #

    Oh such a wondrous place. . .the stairway reminded me of some we’ve walked in Greece when I always feel like Alice in Wonderland must have felt when she tumbled into that amazing world.

    • Jenny Freedman February 7, 2014 at 11:25 am #

      It’s a bit like that Jackie! I’m in awe of how they ever managed to build it on top of the mountain! Certainly one to see if you’re ever in this part of Turkey

  14. Carolyn February 7, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Truly amazing, Jenny. I can just imaging rounding the corner and seeing the statues in front of you for the first time – it would take your breath away. Another reason I must get back to Turkey.

    • Jenny Freedman February 11, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

      There are so many reasons to go back to Turkey Carolyn! I think about them all constantly!! I’m just pleased we were close by to Nemrut Dag and could include it in our itinerary.

  15. Mary {The World Is A Book} February 7, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Yet, another reason for me to go to Turkey. I would love to visit this wonderful place full of history and mystery. My kids like anything with mythology so I can actually get them to do this long walk 🙂 Beautiful backdrop to those statues.

    • Jenny Freedman February 11, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      I’m sure they’d race up the hill Mary! The children that were there when we visited were fascinated..as were we!

  16. Jess @UsedYorkCity February 7, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    This is amazing! I think my favorite part is how isolated it is away from a town or other big tourist attraction…I think that would lend to the magic of this place even more!

    • Jenny Freedman February 11, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

      It is part of the magic Jess! I kept wondering how on earth they managed to construct the mound and put the statues in place. If you’re ever in Turkey, it’s worth the visit.

  17. Michele {Malaysian MThis eanders} February 8, 2014 at 12:54 am #

    I didn’t realize how steep those stairs were until I saw how tiny the people in the picture are. This looks like a fascinating place and well worth the slow but steady climb to get up there. I was surprised that the heads are upright. I expected them to be lying down where they fell.

    • Jenny Freedman February 11, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

      Slow and steady is definitely the way to go Michele! Placing the heads upright in the place they fell is the only thing that archaeologists have done to the site. I’m not sure when this was but other than that, it hasn’t been touched.

  18. Nancie February 11, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Nemrut will definitely be on my must see list when I get back to Turkey!

    • Jenny Freedman February 12, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      You’ll certainly enjoy it when you go Nancie!

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