The colossal stone heads at the top of Mount Nemrut National Park are one of Turkey’s most famous sites. The statues of Greek and Persian gods were up to 10 metres tall and formed part of the tomb and temple complex built by Antiochus I ( 69–34 B.C BC), who reigned over the Commagene kingdom. This marvellous park also includes the tumulus of Antioch, Eskikale (Arsameia), Yenikale (New Castle), Karakus Tepe (Peak), and Cendere Bridge.
Nemrut: Throne of the Gods
A magnificent historical site located on the eastern Taurus mountain range and the 8th Wonder of the World bearing the most spectacular monuments of the Kingdom of Commagene. Nemrut is a mountain of the Taurus Range, in Adiyaman. Mount Nemrut National Park is a mountain measuring 2150 meters in height and the surface area is 13.850 hectares. It is located near the Kahta village in the province of Adiyaman. From a height of 2150 metres it dominates the entire landscape. From whatever side you approach it, its distinctive peak can be seen. The mountain is only accessible during the summer months. The rest of the year it is covered by snow and ice.
The Secrets Of The Commagene Kingdom
The haunting sculptures overlooking Mount Nemrut are some of the most magnificent that you’ll find anywhere in the world. Giant heads built in the 1st century B.C. under the Commagene Kingdom look out over an incredible sunrise and sunset every day. These massive sculptures are like just about nowhere else in the world, weighing at 6 tons and are a full 10 meters tall.
But where do these mysterious sculptures come from? What is the Commagene Kingdom? Who was King Antiochus I Theos? Why were they built? What purpose do they serve? And why on this spot? It’s one of the few examples in history where we have the remnants of the history and not the memory, so it’s up to us to set the record right and discover the history of this land all over again.
What was the Commagene Kingdom?
This kingdom was an ancient Armenian kingdom that essentially served as a buffer state between ancient Rome and Persia. In fact, the kings of Commagene claimed ancestry from Darius I of Persia.
Its capital was the grand city of Samosata, of which almost nothing remains. The valley at the bottom of Mount Nemrut is likely the location for the city. As you can see, even the known history of the kingdom is a little shrouded in history, but it’s reckoned that the kingdom remained relatively independent until 17 AD, when it was conquered by the Roman emperor Tiberius. It regained independence for a couple decades before being incorporated in the Roman Empire once and for all in 72 AD by the emperor Vespasian.
The kings of the kingdom appear to have been extremely powerful and wealthy, and certainly the sculptures and Mount Nemrut speak to this.
What are the sculptures exactly?
The sculptures were built by King Antiochus I Theos of Commmagene as a tomb-sanctuary for himself. The sculptures are of himself, two lions, two eagles and various Greek, Armenian, and Medean gods, such as Zeus-Aramazd or Oromasdes (associated with Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda), Hercules-Vahagn, Tyche-Bakht, and Apollo-Mihr-Mithras.
The sculptures themselves show the “East meets West” nature of the kingdom, as the facial features are Greek but the clothing they’re wearing is decidedly more Eastern. They are no longer standing in their original positions, but the scattered effect of the sculpture’s current positions is perhaps more impressive than if they were neatly in a row as they almost certainly were originally intended.
The ruins on the top of Mount Nemrut
The ruins on the top of Mount Nemrut indicate that it was not a residence, but specifically built for the tumulus of Antioch and his sacred space. The tumulus overlooks the River Firat and the neighbouring plains. It is thought that the king’s bones or ashes were put inside the room carved into the main rock, then covered by the tumulus which is 50 meters high and 150 meters in diameter. The courtyards are shaped like terraces, and religious ceremonies were held on the western side of Mount Nemrut National Park.
On both terraces, the huge sculptures of the gods, measuring up to 10 meters high, are positioned between the lion and eagle sculptures. These are surrounded by great stone blocks, arranged perpendicularly with inscriptions and embossed designs. The capital city of Commagene, Arsameia, is in the neighbourhood of the old Kahta village. The holy field of Mithridates is also in that area. Yenikale is also of great historic interest, and in the area of old Kahta. This castle was built on very steep rocks, and has water depots, baths, mosque, and a hidden water road that leads to river Kahta.
Cendere Bridge, built with one arch on two rocks, crosses the narrowest point of the river Cendere. According to the epitaph written on the columns of the bridge, the Commagene cities had built it in honour of Roman Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211 AD) and his wife and sons. Karakus Peak Tumulus, in which the women of the royal family were buried, is a 21 meters tall tumulus 10 km south-west of Arsameia.
UNESCO World Heritage List
Cultural components of the site are protected under the National Conservation Law No. 2863 and National Parks Law No. 2873. Mount Nemrut Tumulus was registered as a First Degree Archaeological Site under Act No. 2863 in 1986. After the preparation of current detailed maps, this site was revised and its surroundings were designated as an Interaction Transition Zone by Sanliurfa Regional Council for Conservation of Cultural Property in 2008. Finally, the border of this zone, which acts as an unofficial Buffer Zone, was enlarged in 2011 by the same authority for the sake of the conservation of the cultural asset. UNESCO has inscribed Mount Nemrut on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987 and called the site the 8th Wonder of the World. Under the National Parks Law (No. 2873), an area that includes Nemrut Tumulus and other archaeological areas covering 13.850 Hectares were declared a Natural Park in 1988.
Sunset on Mount Nemrut National Park
The statues at Mount Nemrut are quite an extraordinary sight as the sun sets and under the brilliant night stars in the mountain air. It's well worth the steep walk up in the cold air. There are hotels and restaurants available near the national park, Karadut and Kahta.