Mount Nemrut

Adiyaman, the cradle of the oldest civilizations in history, is among the most important tourist destinations in Turkey because of Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağ), with its graves, temples and the statues of the kings of the Commagene state. The mountain is only accessible during the summer months, the rest of the year it is covered by snow and ice. The most suitable time of year for climbing the mountain is between 15 May and 15 October.

The Commagene state was founded in the first century B.C. on the lands of the Adiyaman province of today. King Antiochus I, who was known to be an art lover, decided that his grave should be at the summit of Mount Nemrut and said, "Those who come to visit my grave should wear their most beautiful clothes and the most fragrant perfumes. I will give them happiness and prosperity for generations on these lands." In fact, the whole Mount Nemrut National Park and especially the summit, with its impressive silhouette at the height of 2150 meters, is the most visited place in the province by both domestic and foreign tourists.

The mausoleum of Antiochus I, located at the summit of the mountain, is surrounded by three sacred areas in the shape of terraces carved into the hard rock on three sides of the mountain. On the eastern terrace the statues of Apollo, Tyche (Fortuna), Zeus, Hercules, king Antiochus, an eagle and a lion are located. The gods are shown sitting, not standing as usual, because the top of Mount Nemrut is their home. "Here," says King Antiochus, "their heavenly thrones are standing". Originally the statues were 8 to 10 metres high. They are made from limestone, now dull and weathered. Formerly, when the sun was shining on their smooth, polished surfaces, their brilliance must have been visible from a great distance. The statues tower over two raised platforms cut from the rock. On the lower, five steles were standing, four showing the king welcoming the gods and one depicting a horoscope. Little has remained of these steles on the east terrace, but on the west terrace they are quite well preserved. To the east of the terrace, there is a rectangular-shaped altar with steps, and beside it a statue of a protective lion. The western terrace, where there are the same statues, is more ımpressive with its sculptures, in spite of the fact that it has experienced more damage in comparison with the eastern terrace.

Detailed summary

Kings of the Commagene dynasty ruled Adiyaman and its vicinity from 80 BC to 72 AD. This kingdom, the capital of which was Samosata (now called Samsat), was founded around 80 BC by Mithridates I, the father of Antiochus I. The independence ended when it was defeated by Roman legions in the last of the Commagene wars and it became part of the Roman province of Syria. At its height, Commagene extended from the Taurus mountains (Toros dağları) on the north to the Euphrates river (Fırat) on the east and southeast, to present day Gaziantep on the south, and to the county of Pazarcik in Kahramanmaras on the west.

The magnificent ruins on the summit of Mt Nemrut are not those of an inhabited site, they are the famous tumulus (burial mound) and hierotheseion (a word that is derived from Greek and refers to the sacred burial precinct of the royal family) of King Antiochus I of Commagene, who ruled from 69 to 36 BC. In a cult inscription, King Antiochus declares that he had the site built for the ages and generations that were to follow him "as a debt of gratitude to the gods and to his deified ancestors for their assistance". Mt Nemrut is located 100 km from Adiyaman and no reference to it is made in ancient sources. Karl Sester, a German road engineer, rediscovered it in modern times in 1881. In 1989, Mt Nemrut and its environs were declared a national park. The tumulus on the summit of Mt Nemrut is 50 metres high and covers an area of 150 metres in diameter. It is made from stones the size of a fist and is bounded on the east, west, and north by terraced courts carved out of the rock.

The eastern court was the center of the sacred area and contains the most important group of sculptures and architectural work. It is surrounded by colossal statues on the west, by a fire altar in the shape of a stepped pyramid on the east, and by low walls of orthostats (upright stone slabs) standing on a long, narrow base on the north and south. The court was originally paved with white slabs. A number of these have been found and set by the pedestal of the Lion Horoscope on the west terrace.

The north terrace was built as a processional way that connected the terraces on the east and west. The colossal statues of an eagle on either side guard the entrance through the exact centre of the wall of the north terrace. According to inscriptions on the backs of the thrones on which the divinities are seated, King Antiochus I of Commagene ordered that he be buried in this hierotheseion. The excavations that have been carried out here have revealed that the tumulus was built on top of a rock. This makes it very likely that the king's body (or ashes) were placed in a chamber cut into the rock and then the tumulus was built on top of that chamber. All attempts to find the burial chamber have failed.

Walking further round the tumulus, you reach the west terrace, the most sacred place on the mountain. From this terrace, the plain of Mesopotamia, the cradle of the civilization, can be seen. The sun, the moon and all stars of the zodiac rise on the left, reaching their zenith directly in the middle, and descending on the right. The west terrace was not accessible to common people. The processional way, which led the nobles to this terrace, ended at the open place on the north side of the terrace. Here was the entrance to this terrace, which was guarded by a monstrous lion with three heads. Now the monster has fallen, with its face down. The statues on this terrace are the same as those on the east terrace, but greatly surpass them in beauty. The statues are also in less exalted positions than those on the east terrace which look down on the people from their raised platforms. The fallen heads of the statues have been set in front of them. The resemblance between the head of Antiochus and the god Apollo is striking. Apollo was the only god to whom Antiochus assigned his own priest to celebrate his rites.

Opposite the statues is a long row of pedestals, on which the steles of the Greek ancestors of Antiochus stood. At a right angle to this row stood another row of steles, depicting his Persian ancestors. From these steles the ones of Darius and Xerxes are well preserved. In front of each stele is a small altar. Inscriptions have been found on two of those altars. They have, for a large part, been chiselled away. These inscriptions date from ealier times. The same ancestors have been depicted in the same sequence on the east terrace.

Next to the statues are five large steles. They are equal to those from the lower platform of the east terrace. On four of them King Mithridates I Kallinikos welcomes the gods. From left to right you see the Goddess of Commagene, next Apollo, then Zeus and finally Hercules. Their names are carved at the back of the stele. Archaeologists have found that those names have been carved over an earlier text. Next to the stele of Hercules, is the fifth stele, known as the Lion Horoscope. Just like the row of 5 statues from Antiochus, the row of 5 steles of Mithridates is flanked on both sides by an eagle and a lion.

If you stand behind the statue of Zeus, you can read the letters "N O M O [ " (Nomos). Here, the Holy Law of Antiochus begins. The Nomos of Nemrut can be regarded as the testament of Antiochus. Whatever has been the cause, in all the sanctuaries in Commagene the Nomos is inscribed. At Mount Nemrut, Antiochus carved the Nomos on the back of the gigantic statues. In the Nomos, he tells the people how and when they have to honour the great gods. Antiochus says: "This Nomos is proclaimed by me, but it is the power of the gods that makes it law."

After conquering the kingdom, to avoid any rebellion in the future, Roman soldiers destroyed all the statues and buildings which recalled the earlier greatness of Commagene. They demolished the sanctuary on holy Mount Nemrut. The Christian population, which came later to live here, knew nothing of the origins of the sanctuary. They thought that it had to be the work of the legendary Nimrod from the Old Testament. Therefore they called the mountain after the first powerful ruler on earth, Nemrut.

It was not until the nineteenth century, that the German, Karl Sester, discovered the sanctuary on Mount Nemrut. He was less astonished by the impressive ruins than by the total absence of them on any map of Asia Minor.

Mount Nemrut can be visited on 3-Day Mount Nemrut Tour.

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