Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mount Nemrut.


Mt Nemrut (Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis)

On my first visit to Turkey, I didn't know Mount Nemrut existed. By the time I returned to Turkey, a few short months later, I knew of its existence and had hoped to visit.  But that second visit took place at the end of November and access to the mountain was closed because it was winter time.  So, third time will be the charm.  Mount Nemrut is located a short drive from the town of Kâhta.  After doing quite a bit of research into getting to Kâhta on our own, I came to conclusion tht it would be far simpler to have someone take us there so I opted to sign us up for a three day, 2 night tour to Mount Nemrut from Cappadocia.  For 160 euros per person, it's not a bad deal.


So, what is this place and why is it worth the trek to get there?  It's a burial site for a king and it's not crowded with tourists most likely because of its distance from other tourist hotspots e.g., Istanbul, Ephesus, Cappadocia.  You really have to make the effort to come here!

Antiochus I Theos and Zeus (Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis)
Mount Nemrut was discovered in1881 by an engineer from Germany, Charles Sester, who was assessing transport routes for the Ottoman Empire.  However, archaeological activity only began in 1953. Since the start of excavation, most of the heads have been found, in addition to temples, bas reliefs, and inscriptions.

The history of Mount Nemrut goes back to 190 BCE when the Seleucid Empire was defeated by the Romans at the Battle of Magnesia.  Soon after defeat, the Seleucid Empire began to fall apart and new kingdoms were established.  One of those kingdoms was Commagene, which occupied land located between the Taurus mountains and the Euphrates.

In 62 BC, King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene ordered a huge tomb to be built for himself on the mountain top.  The tomb was flanked by huge statues (8–9 m or 26–30 ft high) of himself, two lions, and two eagle. Antiochus himself was half Armenian and half Greek and he was determined to unite the various races that made up the population of Commagene.  So, in addition to statues of himself and the animals, there were also statues of Greco Roman gods  - Hercules is there, as is Zeus, Tyche and Apollo as well as their Iranian and Armenian counterparts – Vahagn, Aramazd and Ahura Mazda.

Western Terrace (Photo by rdptour)
All of the statues were once seated, with names of each god inscribed on them.  Over the centuries, the colossal statues, each over 9 meters tall, have been damaged by earthquakes and their stone heads have been sent rolling down the hillside. None of the statues have been restored to their original positions so they are now scattered throughout the site. 
 
The statues appear to have Greek-style facial features, but Armenian / Persian clothing and hairstyling.
There is damage to the heads, notably to noses, that appears to have been deliberately inflicted most likely as a result of iconoclasm.

The western terrace contains a large slab with a lion, showing the arrangement of stars and the planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars on 7 July 62 BC. This may be an indication of when construction began on this monument. The eastern portion is well preserved, being composed of several layers of rock, and a path following the base of the mountain is evidence of a walled passageway linking the eastern and western terraces. Possible uses for this site is thought to have included religious ceremonies, due to the astronomical and religious nature of the monument.

In addition to the statues, Mount Nemrut also preserves stone slabs with bas-relief figures that are thought to have formed a large frieze. These slabs display the ancestors of Antiochus, who included Armenian, Greek and Persians.

Holy Pools of Carp
The typical tour to Nemrut has people driving up part way and then hiking the rest of the way to the mountain top to see the sun rise.  I think that will be nice but it may be a bit cold for us.  We'll have to think about packing in some heavier weight clothing for our hike up. 

Enroute to Kâhta , we'll get to stop in Kahramanmaras, known as the birthplace of dondurma a.ka. Turkish ice cream.  Turkish ice cream is uniquely known for being made with mastic which accounts for its stretchy qualities.  I'll have to do a separate posting on that.

Enroute back to Cappadocia, we'll then visit the towns of Arsemia (once the capital of the Commagene Kingdom), Sanliurfa (where we will spend our second night), Harran, and Birecik which is famous for its bald-ibis (Kelaynak) birds.  In Sanliurfa, we'll be spending time visting Abraham’s Cave and the Pools of Holy Carp. The cave is believed to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, who founded Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The story says that there was a prophecy given from an oracle that a boy would be born in Sanliurfa who would kill the king, therefore the king demanded that every baby boy be killed. Abraham being born at this time was captured by the king and thrown off a cliff into a fire. The flames turned to water and the burning wood transformed into carp. This became the Pools of Holy Carp.

As excited as I am about returning to Cappadocia, for the third time, I'm even more excited about going on this short tour to Nemrut.  I think Bro will enjoy it as well!