Nemrut Dağı

Nemrut Dağı

Mountain-top funerary mound

Time was that so much guidebook hoopla surrounded this summit shrine that it effectively became a sacred pilgrimage, with local operators hauling befuddled clients from their beds in the early hours and driving them through the darkness to catch the dawn from the 2,150-metre peak, as if only by ordeal could they be readied for the transcending experience ahead. The dawn views from the eastern terrace could certainly be something, but the cold did go to the bone, and it’s an all-round relief that these days Nemrut Dağı keeps hours much like any other historic site.

Forgetting the alarm clock is a welcome development in other ways, not least because the daylight drive is lovely, with the preferred approach from Kahta passing through delightful upland landscapes with views over the various lakes of the dammed Euphrates. Above the ticket gate a steep but much-improved path rises from the car park to reach the site in 20 minutes. There are two terraces, each with its rank of monumental statues. These were once seated though the magnificent heads – of gods, kings and creatures – have long since tumbled to the ground where they have been placed upright, each the height of a man. The last time I visited was at dusk which we caught from the western terrace, itself reached by following an easy traverse from the eastern terrace. The views were sublime; next time, we’ll arrive still earlier to avoid the crush.

Nemrut Dağı is the burial mound of a local king, Antiochus, whose stupendous creation sought to fix himself and his dynasty in eternal and inalienable association with the greatest of the gods; Zeus, Apollo and Hercules.  In fact his Commagene kingdom would be unceremoniously absorbed by Rome within a century of his death in 36BC.  Antiochus himself is presumed to be entombed within the great tumulus of chipped stones which rises above the terraces and which is strictly out of bounds to visitors.


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