Mount Nemrut

Location: 

GPS coordinates: 37.980756, 38.740726

Mount Nemrut, the monumental resting place of King Antiochus I Theos from the Kingdom of Commagene, is one of the most fascinating ancient places in Turkey. Although the country abounds in magnificent relics of antiquity, Mount Nemrut certainly deserves the place on the top ten list of the archaeological hits of Asia Minor. Moreover, the hierothesion of Antiochus is a sensational sight on a global scale. At the same time, it is an archaeological site that still holds many secrets. Until now, it has not been possible to determine with certainty what the artificial embankment on the peak of the mountain conceals. What's more, astronomy enthusiasts can try to solve the mystery of the famous "lion horoscope" placed on one of the bas-reliefs decorating the mountain. Finally, the huge sculptures on Mount Nemrut are a perfect illustration of religious syncretism and Antiochus' attempt to introduce a new state cult that combined Greek, Persian and Armenian influences.

West Terrace of Mount Nemrut
West Terrace of Mount Nemrut

Historical overview: 

The small Kingdom of Commagene was located in the faraway corner of Asia Minor demarcated on one side by the upper course of the Euphrates, and on the other - by the Anti-Taurus Mountains. Despite its modest size, Commagene played an important role as a buffer state between the Seleucid Empire in the west and Parthia in the East, in the period of Roman expansion to the east, into the area controlled by the Hellenistic states. King Antiochus I, reigning in the years 70-38 BCE (or 69-36 BCE, depending on the source), was the most powerful ruler of Commagene. For over 30 years, he faced the political challenges of this turbulent period. As the son, and most probably the only child, of King Mithridates I Callinicus from the Orontid Armenian dynasty and Princess Laodice VII Thea, a Greek–Syrian princess of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus could boast the descend from two distinguished families, with ancestors both in the West and in the East.

These mixed origins were reflected in Antiochus' policy of maintaining the balance between the East and the West, and in the assumptions of the religion he established. The Antiochus monument on Mount Nemrut - the highest mountain peak in the Kingdom of Commagene - is a compelling proof of the megalomania of this ruler who thought he was equal to the gods. To express this belief, he ordered the erection of an artificial mound of crushed rock, 50 meters high, on Mount Nemrut top. At the foot of this peak, 8–9-metre-high statues were placed depicting him surrounded by the gods.

Artificial tumulus on Mount Nemrut
Artificial tumulus on Mount Nemrut

Archaeological research: 

The existence of the remains of an ancient monument on Mount Nemrut has not been a secret for a long time. In 1881, a German engineer laying out transport routes in the Ottoman Empire, Karl Sester, reported on the unusual structures in Nemrut. Naturally, he was not brought the peak by sheer chance. Sester had planned to mark the route through eastern Anatolia based on the course of ancient communication routes. The inhabitants of the surrounding settlements who assisted him were unable to show him any ancient road but were happy to inform him about extraordinary monumental statues on Mount Nemrut. Motivated more by pure curiosity than the real possibility of marking the road through this mountain peak, Sester climbed to the top in the company of a Kurd named Bâko, and he saw monumental sculptures with his own eyes.

West Terrace on Mount Nemrut
West Terrace on Mount Nemrut

Shortly afterwards, the first scientific expeditions set off to Mount Nemrut. In 1882, the German Archaeological Institute delegated Otto Puchstein, an archaeologist who was on a mission in Egypt, to visit Nemrut in the company of Sester. A year later, Puchstein returned to the mountain with Karl Humann. In the same year, the first Turkish research mission arrived at Nemrut, under the direction of archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey and sculptor Osgan Effendi. However strange this may sound, the vast part of the knowledge we now have about the hierothesion on Mount Nemrut comes from that pioneer period of research. It was Sester and Puchstein who discovered a very long inscription in Greek, which informed about the purpose of erecting the monument and the intentions of Antiochus. German and Ottoman researchers made detailed descriptions of all the finds visible above the ground and translated the inscription. The results of these first studies became available to the general public already in 1890, when an extensive publication devoted to Mount Nemrut, authored by Humann and Puchstein, was released in Berlin. In turn, Turkish researchers published the results of their work in the book "Le Tumulus de Nemroud Dagh" published in French in 1883. Nevertheless, these pioneering studies did not include excavation works. The researchers lacked technical means to remove the thick layer of rubble that had slipped from the top of the tumulus and covered the fragments of monumental statues.

Plans of West and East Terrace on Mount Nemrut - from Humann, Carl i Puchstein, Otto,
Plans of West and East Terrace on Mount Nemrut - from Humann, Carl i Puchstein, Otto, "Reisen in Kleinasien und Nordsyrien: ausgeführt im Auftrage der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften", Public Domain

Despite the sensational discovery, Mount Nemrut had to wait more than half a century to arouse the interest of the researchers again. In 1939, Friedrich Karl Dörner, the author of the doctoral dissertation on the Kingdom of Commagene, arrived in eastern Anatolia and began systematic research of this mountain. After a break caused by the outbreak of the Second World War, Dörner returned to Nemrut, not only to reveal its secrets but also to discover other archaeological sites from the times of the Commagene Kingdom. To him we owe the exploration of Karakuş Tumulus, resulting in the discovery of a hidden burial chamber, the identification of the summer capital of Commagene - Arsameia on the Nymphaios, and the second Arsameia - on the Euphrates.

Mount Nemrut
Mount Nemrut

While Friedrich Karl Dörner is often described as a researcher who devoted much of his life to researching Mount Nemrut, Theresa Goell, who devoted literally everything to Nemrut, is relatively rarely mentioned in this context. Her biography is full of unbelievable events and sacrifices that she made to reveal the mysteries of Nemrut. Called the "Queen of the Mountain", Goell reached Mount Nemrut as a forty-year-old divorcee, breaking into the male-dominated archaeology world of the Middle East. According to Goell, Mount Nemrut had not been attracting enough scientific attention due to its specific historical and geographic conditions. The mountain was "too oriental" for classical archaeologists, studying the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome, and, at the same time, "too classical" for orientalists. Goell spent the rest of her life researching Mount Nemrut, pushed by the desire to discover the burial chamber of King Antiochus.

West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of King Antiochus
West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of King Antiochus

Thus, in the 1950s, two teams of researchers - directed by Dörner and by Goell - were working on Mount Nemrut. Under their agreement, Goell directed the works at the summit of Nemrut, using the help of Dörner as an epigraphic expert, reading the rock inscriptions. Dörner, on the other hand, conducted excavations at the foot of the mountain, in Arsameia on the Nymphaios, with Goell as an assistant. In this arrangement, Dörner and Goell collaborated continuously from 1953 to 1956, and after a short break, for the last time in 1958. Goell's first goal was to uncover the terraces on top of Nemrut from the rubble, in a way that allowed the recognition of the spatial organisation of the sculptures around the tumulus. With time, her work was increasingly focused on trying to find the tomb of Antiochus, mentioned in the inscription uncovered in 1882. Goell's obsession is perfectly illustrated by the saying "to leave no stone unturned" as this is exactly what she did: looked under all the boulders and stones on Mount Nemrut in search of the tomb. What's more, she made the boreholes in the tumulus, and the traces of dynamite explosions can still be seen behind statues on both main terraces. All these efforts came to nought - the location of the tomb of King Antiochus remains a mystery. Moreover, many modern researchers such as Tom Utecht are inclined to the theory that the tomb is not hidden inside the tumulus, but rather underneath, or even in another location nearby. Considering the ambiguities surrounding the location of the mausoleum of King Mithridates in Arsameia and the fact that the so-called "grave chamber" in the Karakuş Tumulus turned out to be empty, one can begin to suspect that the erection of monumental tombs by the rulers of Commagene was a deliberate ruse, designed to divert the attention of potential grave robbers or angry demons from the actual place of their burial.

East Terrace on Mount Nemrut
East Terrace on Mount Nemrut

Let's return to Tess Goell and the results of her efforts. The year 1973 was the last one when she conducted fieldwork on Nemrut. In this year she supervised the renovation of the altar at the East Terrace and the reconstruction of two rows of steps leading to the colossal thrones on this terrace. Although she devoted more time to Mount Nemrut than any other researcher, she did not leave the results of her research gathered in the form of a monograph. Only short reports and popular science articles appeared during her life. Initially, she explained herself by the lack of progress on the part of Dörner, who dealt with inscriptions from Nemrut, but then, despite the deadlines she set herself, she was still unable to complete the monograph. In poor health, seeing that completing this work was beyond her capabilities, Goell asked Donald Sanders to compile her results in 1983. However, she died in 1985, not seeing the final result, as Sanders needed 13 years of hard work to complete the task. Finally, Goell's scattered notes and sketches were published in 1996, in a two-volume work entitled "Nemrud Dağı: The Hierothesion of Antiochus I of Commagene."

Meanwhile, Friedrich Dörner retired in 1976, but he continued to make efforts to secure monuments on Mount Nemrut. The year 1984 was the last one when he actively participated in the works on Nemrut. A year earlier, he started a renovation project, which he intended to continue for the next five years, but poor health forced him to abandon these plans. The work of his life devoted to this mountain - "Der Thron der Götter auf dem Nemrud Dağ" - appeared in 1987, five years before the death of the author. Dörner's work was continued from 1987 to 1989 by his student - Sencer Şahin - in collaboration with German scientists from the Aachen Technical University. Their efforts were focused on geophysical research to help locate Antiochus' burial chamber. At the same time, reconstruction works were carried out, and Nemrut was prepared for tourism. In 1989, work lost momentum due to lack of funding, although Şahin continued his research and published articles devoted to Nemrut until 1998.

West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the heads of głowy Heracles and an Eagle
West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the heads of głowy Heracles and an Eagle

In 1987, Mount Nemrut Mountain was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The reason for this distinction was primarily the unique artistic achievement that was accomplished during the reign of King Antiochus - the transformation of the natural mountain landscape into a monumental architectural complex. In addition, the hierothesion on Mount Nemrut is an extraordinary testimony to the civilisation of the Commagene Kingdom and the ambitions of the local dynasty, which sought to maintain independence from the powers of the East and the West. Moreover, together with the archaeological sites of Karakuş and Arsameia on the Nymphaios, Nemrut is a perfect illustration of a syncretic pantheon that combined religious and artistic influences of Greece, Persia, and Armenia, with local Anatolian cults.

An interesting episode in the history of research on Mount Nemrut began in 2001, when the permission to conduct research work was given to a team of archaeologists associated with the University of Amsterdam. It was the result of a campaign that lasted for many years and was conducted by the International Nemrud Foundation, established in 1998 to protect this monument and carry out its reconstruction. The Foundation received support from the World Monuments Fund - a non-profit organisation whose activity is aimed at protecting the world's most important historical architecture and cultural heritage. In 2000, Mount Nemrut was entered by this organisation into the list of the 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites in the world. As a result of this cooperation, Turkish authorities granted a permit to carry out research at Nemrut, and in July 2001, a team led by Herman Brijder and Maurice Crijns started fieldwork. Initially, these works focused on preparing detailed documentation of the state of Mount Nemrut. This documentation was to form the basis for further reconstruction and renovation works. As part of the work of Dutch researchers, the Temporary Renovation Laboratory was built near the North Terrace. However, after the promising start, described in "The Nemrud Dağ Project: first interim report" in 2002, WMF withdrew from the project, and after the 2003 season, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism withdrew the permission for the Dutch scientists to continue the research. This decision was motivated by the need for a 'more holistic approach to Nemrut'. The most serious charge against Brijder and Crijns was the arbitrary transfer of the heads of statues on the East Terrace, from the places where they had been since their discovery in the 19th century. In addition, the researchers dismantled and then rebuilt the Antiochus statue on this terrace. The final goal - the total reconstruction of gigantic statues on both main terraces - was not realised.

East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of the goddess of Commagene
East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of the goddess of Commagene

The latest round of archaeological and conservation works on Mount Nemrut began in 2006, when Middle East Technical University (METU) from Ankara prepared a vast research plan, covering not only Nemrut itself but also its immediate surroundings, i.e. Mount Nemrut National Park. The coordinator of the Commagene Nemrut Conservation Development Program (CNCDP) is Professor Neriman Şahin Güçhan. Many famous personalities from the world of science were invited to cooperate, including doctor Donald Sanders - the author of the compilation of works by Theresa Goell, professor Sencer Şahin - the manager of works on Nemrut in the 80s of the 20th century, and the members of Theresa Goell family. The latest achievements and results of this project can be followed on its official website.

Sightseeing: 

The most impressive element of the hierothesion of King Antiochus is an artificial mound of stone chips, built on the top of the mountain, with a height of about 50 meters and a diameter of 150 meters. It is surrounded by three terraces - East, North and West. The North Terrace is the least spectacular, and it was probably never finished. The East and West terraces were decorated in the times of King Antiochus with monumental statues, almost identical on both of them. The main group of statues were the figures of five deities, representing the pantheon of the newly established religious cult. These figures were guarded by statues of a lion and an eagle, standing on both sides. The whole composition was completed by limestone slabs, decorated with reliefs representing the handshake (i.e. dexiosis) exchanged between the king and the deities. In addition, one of the slabs showed the silhouette of a lion accompanied by celestial bodies - the so-called "Lion Horoscope". The monument was completed by two series of portraits of Antiochus' ancestors, both on the Greek, Persian, and Armenian sides, which, however, remained unfinished. On the East Terrace there is also a stone altar, sometimes called a stepped pyramid, and its presence suggests that important religious rituals were held at this location.

East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of King Antiochus
East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of King Antiochus

On the back of the gigantic thrones of the gods, Antiochus ordered to engrave an inscription - nomos - containing detailed information on the legal and historical aspects of the creation of the hierothesion on Mount Nemrut and the establishment of a new religious cult. The inscription is located both on the East and the West Terrace, and besides minor spelling differences, it has the same wording. In order to get a general idea of the tone and message of Antiochus' inscription, all you need to do is read the following excerpt: "Whoever shall presume to rescind or to injure or guilefully to misinterpret the just tenor of this regulation or the heroic honors which an immortal judgement has sanctioned, him the wrath of the daemons and of all the gods shall pursue, both himself and his descendants, irreconcilably, with every kind of punishment."

When the whole text of the nomos was translated, it was revealed that the mausoleum was built when the king already enjoyed the "life of many years". Nomos also contains an instruction that the new cult should be celebrated throughout the Kingdom, but particularly on Mount Nemrut. The text of the inscription also offers instructions on how to celebrate festivals in honour of the gods, including Antiochus himself. Specially designated days are the birthday of "the king's body" and his coronation. Antiochus dedicated these two days, to the revelations of demons (daimones), which led him during the successful reign over the kingdom. At this point it is worth noting that in ancient times the term "demon" was ambivalent and defined both positive and negative superhuman beings - in this sense, demons often served as guardian spirits, to which role Antiochus clearly referred.

The view from Mount Nemrut in the direction of Euphrates
The view from Mount Nemrut in the direction of Euphrates

What supernatural beings did Antioch refer to? They were presented in the form of monumental statues on Mount Nemrut. Looking at the group of seated figures from left to right, these were: Antiochus himself, the goddess of Commagene, Zeus-Orosmasdes-Ahura Mazda, Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes, and Artagnes-Bahram-Heracles-Ares. The complex nomenclature of these deities results from the syncretic character of the religion promoted by Antiochus, which combined the elements of Zoroastrianism and the classical Greek pantheon. The greatest problem for researchers is posed by the figure of the goddess of Commagene, representing the fertile lands of this kingdom. During the visit on Mount Nemrut, one can see the information identifying this character with the goddess Tyche - the personification of chance, good and bad luck. However, the latest publications on Mount Nemrut tend to identify the figure of Commagene with Atargatis, the main goddess of northern Syria, called Dea Syria by the Romans, and identified with Juno Dolichena - the eastern variant of Jupiter's wife. Her nickname - Dolichena - indicates a strong connection with the Kingdom of Commagene, of which Doliche was one of the main cities.

East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the location of the monumental statues
East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the location of the monumental statues

Let us now look more closely at the East Terrace and try to recreate its original appearance using the imagination and information provided by archaeologists. Monumental figures of deities sitting on their thrones were the most important element of the whole ensemble. The background for their row, placed on a podium carved into the rock, was a tumulus mound made of rubble. The five central figures represented the deities described above. On both sides of the podium were pairs of animal guardians - a lion and an eagle, occupying a common base. Currently, the southern pair of animals has completely collapsed and tumbled down to the foot of the podium, and from the northern pair only a fragment of the eagle has been preserved in the right place. The eagles were presented in a straightened form, simplified with no sign of feathering. Lions, on the other hand, were presented in the sitting posture, with tails curled between their paws.

East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of an Eagle
East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of an Eagle

The statues of the deities were presented in a sitting position, on enormous thrones, and their feet rested on the footrests between the legs of the thrones. The largest, central statue represented Zeus and was situated slightly to the front of the others. It is worth noting the contrast between the relatively clumsy performance of the statues' bodies, and the precision and care that characterises their heads. The figures of the deities consist of horizontally arranged layers of blocks of limestone. Viewed from down to top, these layers represented: footrests, feet and legs up to the edge of the tunic, legs to the knees, abdomen and forearms, chest, arms and neck, heads, and finally headgear. The five bottom layers are still in place. Interestingly, the information provided by Theresa Goell shows that the statue depicting the goddess Commagene was preserved almost entirely until the 1960s, except the headgear which lay below. According to this researcher, the goddess lost her head when it was struck by lightning. The reason why other statues have lost their heads remains an open question, although the most frequently repeated hypotheses mention natural causes: earthquakes and strong winds. The broken noses of statues, on the other hand, may indicate a deliberate human action - a form of protest against false gods, expressed by early Christians or Muslims.

West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the goddess of Commagene still has her head on the shoulders - from Humann, Carl i Puchstein, Otto,
West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the goddess of Commagene still has her head on the shoulders - from Humann, Carl i Puchstein, Otto, "Reisen in Kleinasien und Nordsyrien: ausgeführt im Auftrage der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften", Public Domain

The outfits of the monumental statues are barely marked and devoid of details. Male figures wear oriental-style costumes: shoes, trousers, long-sleeved tunics and coats, while the goddess of Commagene is dressed in the Greek style, in chiton and himation. The hair of the goddess has a parting and is combed back, and her head is decorated with a wreath of plaited poppy and fruit. Antiochus, Zeus, and Apollo hold in their left hands bundles of branches called barsom, serving ritual purposes in Zoroastrianism. Heracles supports a club on his shoulder, and Commagene wields the cornucopia.

East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of Apollo
East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of Apollo

There was a terrace, probably serving cult purposes, in front of the monumental statues. Its dimensions suggest that he could hold a significant gathering. Its sides were marked by rows of blocks placed on stone bases, with altars in front of each of them. The row delimiting the northern border of the East Terrace had 15 blocks, decorated with low reliefs depicting the ancestors of King Antiochus, from Persia, Armenia and Commagene. On the other hand, the southern row consisted of 17 stelae, with depictions of his ancestors with Greek origins

East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, Altar/Stepped Piramid
East Terrace on Mount Nemrut, Altar/Stepped Piramid

The appearance of the West Terrace originally almost mirrored the East Terrace. The most important element was also the group of monumental figures of seated deities, guarded on both sides by a pair consisting of an eagle and a lion. Looking closely at the statues, it is possible to discern a few minor differences in their appearance and clothing. Zeus and Heracles wrinkle their foreheads, and together with the impressive beards, it gives them a much older and more noble appearance than the youthfully depicted and carefully shaved Apollo and Antiochus. Male figures wear headgears in the shape of a Persian tiara, except Antiochus, who has a feathered cap in an Armenian style.

West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of Zeus
West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, the head of Zeus

The group of statues on the West Terrace is distinguished from the East Terrace by a series of bas-reliefs, placed at their northern side (i.e. to the left looking from the front). Currently, only the guards on the right - a lion and a headless eagle - can be seen from this series. At the beginning of the 21st century, there were four steles depicting the king in Persian dress on the left, shaking hands with the deities - the same as those depicted on the monumental thrones - standing on the right. Interestingly, the figure of Zeus was shown as much larger than the king, Heracles was slightly larger, but Apollo - slightly smaller. As for the goddess of Commagene, it is difficult to say because the relief showing her is barely visible. Some fragments of a figure from this relief were removed in the 19th century by Humann and Puchstein to Berlin, where Theresa Goell found them.

Reliefs of dexiosis - Antiochus shaking hands with Zeus and Heracles, West Terrace on Mount Nemrut - from Humann, Carl i Puchstein, Otto,
Reliefs of dexiosis - Antiochus shaking hands with Zeus and Heracles, West Terrace on Mount Nemrut - from Humann, Carl i Puchstein, Otto, "Reisen in Kleinasien und Nordsyrien: ausgeführt im Auftrage der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften", Public Domain

Also on the West Terrace, there are two rows of steles with images of King Antiochus' ancestors. The southern row, composed of 15 blocks, showed the eastern ancestors of Antiochus. The second row, marking the western boundary of the terrace, depicted the ancestors of the king from the West. The north side of the terrace remained open to provide access to the North and East terraces. Additionally, on the West Terrace there was the main entrance to the area of the hierothesion for guests arriving by the main processional route from the direction of Arsameia. The secondary ceremonial route led directly to the East Terrace. Both of the original ceremonial routes to the hierothesion are still used by the visitors to Mount Nemrut today.

West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, ancestor stele of King Antiochus
West Terrace on Mount Nemrut, ancestor stele of King Antiochus

However, it is not the figures of Antiochus, his ancestors and the deities that have fascinated researchers and amateur-astrologers most since the discovery of the tumulus on Mount Nemrut. Their attention was attracted to the relief depicting a lion, whose body is decorated with nineteen stars, most likely reflecting the Leo constellation. A sickle hung on the lion's neck most probably symbolises the moon. What's more, three more stars are visible above the back of the animal, most often interpreted as an illustration of three planets, looking from the left: Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter. The very idea that the diagram depicted in the relief may reflect the real situation in the sky has long caused immeasurable excitement and been the subject of many speculations, guesses, and interpretations.

In the light of one of the latest analyses, carried out by Juan Antonio Belmonte and César González-García, the lion's relief offers a unique opportunity to determine the date of the erection of the tumulus on Mount Nemrut. On the basis of measurements and observations, these researchers showed that the statues on the East Terrace were facing exactly in the direction of the rising sun on July 23rd, when the anniversary of Antioch's accession to the throne was celebrated. Moreover, the statues on the West Terrace were directed precisely towards the setting sun on the birthday of Antiochus on December 23rd, assuming that both events were celebrated in 49 BCE. Based on this observation, the researchers hypothesised that the year 49 BCE it was the date when the hierothesion of Antiochus was built on Mount Nemrut. This is a date later than the year 62 BCE, frequently quoted in the literature. However, in addition to the evidence based on astronomy, 49 BCE seems more likely also due to the age of Antiochus at this time. The king, already in his forties, was at the height of power and political influence, which could have inspired him to build a monument to himself. Moreover, because it is known that the work was not completed until the death of the king in the year 36 BCE (or 38 BCE), a period of 13 years, between the start of work on Nemrut to the death of the king, better justifies the unfinished state of the monument than the situation if the beginning year was 62 BCE.

Relief of the
Relief of the "Lion Horoscope" from West Terrace on Mount Nemrut - from Humann, Carl i Puchstein, Otto, "Reisen in Kleinasien und Nordsyrien: ausgeführt im Auftrage der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften", Public Domain

Where can you see the famous "Lion Horoscope" now? Its story resembles the last scene from the movie The Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the hard-to-find Ark of the Covenant, recovered by Indiana Jones, is safely stored in a huge warehouse. After Osman Hamdi Bey discovered the lion relief in 1882, it remained for a long time in the place where he had been found. In 1984, during his last visit to Nemrut, Dörner set it upright along with blocks depicting dexiosis scenes on the West Terrace, after reinforcing them with concrete and epoxy resin. However, these reliefs were overturned in 2002, under the pressure of snow sliding down from the peak of the tumulus. Shortly afterwards, in 2003, four steles depicting dexiosis and the lion relief were transported to the Temporary Restoration Laboratory due to their bad state of preservation, and have remained there until today.

Along the path leading from the West Terrace to the East Terrace, there is an additional North Terrace. The visitors can see 42 unfinished blocks lying on the slope. They are accompanied by 57 bases, to which they had been probably originally fixed. Because these blocks are completely smooth and lack any decoration, researchers tend to hypothesise that they just served as a windbreak for pilgrims.

North Terrace on Mount Nemrut
North Terrace on Mount Nemrut

Finally, let us look at the materials from which the monument on Mount Nemrut was built. Two main types of rock materials were used. The first of them was a grey-green rock called tufit, consisting of a pyroclastic material with a significant admixture of sedimentary material. Elements made of this material, of poor quality, have been preserved in a worse condition. These include steles with images of ancestors on two main terraces, several smaller statues and small architectural elements. Tufit was obtained locally, in a valley below the East Terrace. The main building material on Nemrut was, however, a much more durable white and yellow limestone rock, from which colossal statues and altars were carved. The place of acquiring this building material remains unknown. It is known, however, that the aggregate from which the top of the tumulus was made came from Mount Nemrut mountain.

Visitor tips: 

The easiest way to get to Mount Nemrut is to buy a tour package from a local travel agency. It can be done in Kahta, Malatya, Sanliurfa, or even in Cappadocia. A typical trip to Nemrut includes transportation, services of a guide, and accommodation in a hotel located in the village of Karadut. The main attraction is the admiration of the sunset, and then the sunrise from the peak of Nemrut, treated as mandatory points of the programme. You should remember about warm clothes, because it is quite cold on the summit before the sunrise, even in summer. If you want to see the statues without joining the crowds, then we strongly recommend visiting the mountain on your own, a few hours after the sunrise or a few hours before the sunset. In these times you will probably have all Nemrut exclusively for yourself.

Since we visited Nemrut Mountain for the first time in 2005, there have been significant changes. First of all, it is no longer possible to drive up to the summit with your own means of transport. Leave the car in the parking lot in front of the modern building housing the Visitor Center. The building hosts an exhibition of photographs depicting Nemrut; there are also toilets and a store with drinks and snacks. The route from the Center to the top of Nemrut Mountain (about 1 km) must be travelled on an official minibus, which carries guests for a nominal fee. You have to walk the last leg of the trip. Unfortunately, the final stop of minibuses is located next to a ruined building, which once served as a ticket booth, but is now a disgusting scar on the landscape. From this place, you can climb to the top of Nemrut along one of two paths that lead quite steeply uphill. The distance to be covered in each case is about 600 meters. Choosing the left branch, you first reach the West Terrace, and the right leg leads to the East Terrace. During the day, minibuses operate when a group of visitors gathers, while before the sunrise and the sunset they drive virtually non-stop back and forth.

The second important change that has taken place over the last years on Mount Nemrut is the collapse of hotel infrastructure below the summit from the direction of the road from Malatya. Several years ago, a hotel was thriving there, also offering the possibility of pitching a tent. Currently, the buildings are empty and fall into disrepair. What's more, it seems that the trips to Nemrut from Malatya have lost their popularity. The road from Kahta is a promoted direction for exploring and channelling tourist traffic towards Nemrut. It is also worth taking into account the fact that even if you approach the top of Nemrut from the direction of Malatya, there is no simple possibility to drive down towards Kahta. In this case, you need to make a long along the northern slope of the mountain, but the road there is terrible quality, and in places it hardly exists at all. Perhaps this situation will be rectified because during our journey we observed some slight traces of road construction activity.

The suggested route for exploring Mount Nemrut National Park starts from the town of Kahta. From there, follow the D360 route to the north, but at the point where it turns east, continue straight north. The first point of the trip after entering the National Park, after driving about 8.5 km from Kahta, is Karakuş Tumulus. Further journey to the north (approximately 7.5 km) leads to Septimius Severus Bridge. From the bridge, the road turns east, and after 3.5 km there's a stop to admire the Devil's Bridge (Kahta Çayı Şeytan Köprüsü). There, a decision should be made as to the further course of the trip. The extended version assumes driving along the left branch of the road, to the village of Eski Kahta, with the fortress of Yeni Kale towering above it, and then return to the road to Arsameia. The faster version is to take the right branch of the road, straight to the parking lot near the archaeological site of Arsameia on the Nymphaios. The last section of the route to the peak of Nemrut is an excellent quality new road leading to the already mentioned Visitor Center. After finishing your visit to Nemrut, you can descend in the south-east direction to the village of Karadut where convenient accommodation can easily be found.