30 June 2015

Mount Nemrut

Mount Nemrut has been on my Turkey travel wishlist for years now and I finally got to go!

While many people combine Nemrut with a trip to Malatya or even Mardin, we only had a couple days and Turkey is really rather large-so not enough time to drive around and do more. As such we flew into the nearest airport (Adiyman) and rather than figure out ground transportation when we got there I booked an airport transfer with our hotel. I was so glad I did. This place is so remote. So. Very. Remote. We stayed at the Keravansaray (more on the hotel later) hotel just 8 kilometers away from Nemrut National Park...and aside from our hotel and one or two others there just wasn't anything there. To top it all off, apparently summer is low season for tourists here. We thought we'd be battling crowds of people since it's summer but apparently high season at Nemrut is only the months of April and September.

A lion guardian moved to stand by the alter

In order to get to the peak of Mount Nemrut for sunrise we had to get up at 3 AM. That's so painful. However I'm not sure I've ever seen a more beautiful 3 AM. The combination of the hour and lack of civilization meant that the sky was full of stars. I could have stared at them for hours. I don't think even in Michigan have I seen stars like that. 3 AM is also a little chilly. This is June so it wasn't really cold, not even on the peak, but I was glad that I brought a light jacket.

Commagene, Zeus, Apollo

Apollo and Heracles with eagle & lion guardians

Considered one of many 8th wonders of the world...Mount Nemrut is a 1st Century BC burial site created by Antiochos of Commagene (which I cannot help but see and think Native American tribe Comanche). The grave, or tumulus, rests on the mountain at an elevation of a little more than 7,000 feet and was created by piling fist sized rocks (left over from the creation of the statues).

I did a lot of book and online research about getting here and around and you basically have three choices: rent a car and do it yourself, rely on the super limited local public transportation/hitch hiking/book tours through your hotel. While the last option is probably the most expensive, when it's left to me to do all the research and organizing for a trip I'm going to choose what is the easiest in the end. Book hotel tour (after of course bargaining them down a bit), get picked up at 3:30 AM, drive  through the park up the majority of the mountain, and hike the last bit. Obviously the high elevation and thin air were the cause of my slow pace and huffing and puffing and not any utter and complete out of shapeness on my part...

Heracles with eagle & lion guardians

Apollo and Heracles


We headed first to the East Terrace where are not only the more impressive statues but where you can watch the sun rise. There's a large, raised platform that seems to have been made as a resting place for people who have managed to get to the summit (imagine doing it without get driven up most of the way!) but was, I think, actually an altar. Behind us are the statues of Antiochos I, Commagene, Zeus (Oromasdes), Apollo (Mithras), and Heracles (Artagnes/Ares) flanked on each side by a lion and an eagle.

Eagle, Antiochos I, Commagene, Zeus, Apollo, Heracles

From the east terrace we circle around to the west terrace of the tumulus where the statues (mirrors of the east side) are in slightly less good condition. Both terraces should also have a series of reliefs marching perpendicularly to the statues. While there are some on the west terrace, several of them (most notably the zodiac lion) seem to be missing. They are not in the Adiyaman museum-we checked.

By the time we made it back to our van it wasn't even 7AM and, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I felt like I'd lived a life in those few hours. Well maybe not a life but certainly more than four hours. I've read some reviews of Mount Nemrut in which people have said they felt underwhelmed...how?! Sure the statues aren't in the best condition and some of the magic is disturbed by the chains keeping tourists from crawling all over the statues and the cage enclosing Zeus's head on the east terrace...but you're still standing at the top of a mountain on which, over 2,000 years ago, people quarried rock to create a ceremonial burial ground dedicated to their gods. Without motor vehicles or power tools. How is that in any way underwhelming?

There's still magic here at the top of Mount Nemrut and if someone as cynical and generally jaded as I am can find it then so can you. And if you have one, bring a tripod. I don't have one but it would have been worth lugging it up there for less blurry pictures.

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