A journey out to eastern Turkey is an adventure filled with long bus rides, cheap hotels, and little visited gems tucked away in every nook and cranny. Expect empty places unlike those that you will find in Istanbul, Selcuk, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia One of the first must visit sites out in Turkey’s east in Mount Nemrut where a King of one of the tiny micro kingdoms of the ancient world lays alone on the mountain top today.
Brief History of Nemrut
The tomb on top of Mount Nemrut and the surrounding ruins are the remains of a tiny and short lived kingdom that sat between the Seleucid (but soon to be a part of the Roman empire) and the Persians. The kingdom came to being after the governor of Commagne, Mithridates I, declared independence from the crumbling Seleucid empire in 80 BCE and made himself king.
Mithridates I was succeeded by his son Antiochus I who is responsible for most of the monuments you can visit today. Antiochus played both sides, managing friendly relations with both the Romans and Persians, which allowed him to prosper in his little kingdom of Commagne. However, Antichus would make a catastrophic error in 38 BCE when he sided with the Persians who were on the losing side of a battle. As a result, Rome dethroned Antiochus I and he and his kingdom slowly began to fade from existence. A kingdom that rose and eventually fell faster than the blink of an eye in the perspective of history.
Mount Nemrut is the kingdoms most impressive and lasting legacy. The impressive tomb on top of the mountain was forgotten by the world until 1881 when a German engineer stumbled upon the mountaintop while designing transport routes for the Ottoman Empire.
With Antiochus I’s kingdom thriving, the king commanded his people to build himself one of the most epic burial mounds in history. As you approach the mountain from below, you will soon realize that the top of the mountain isn’t a part of the mountain at all. To ensure that his tomb would be the highest point in all the land, Antiochus ordered a fifty meter mound of crushed stone to be placed on top of the mountain. Underneath the rubble is the supposed resting place of the king himself.
Acting as bookends on either side of the mound are two flattened sections of the mountain where the king had collosal statues of himself and various Gods carved out. After more than 2,000 years of Earthquakes and weather certainly have taken their toll as the statues now guard the tomb weathered and decapitated. The heads now lay at the feet of their owners, forever gazing out towards the horizon.
The statues here are unique in that they took on influences from both Greek and Persian mythology, a result of the kingdom being wedged between the two mighty empires. The statues are in the same order on both sides. Going from left to right are depictions of a lion, an eagle, king Antiochus I, Commagene Tyche, Zues-Oromasdes, Apollo-Mirthras, Heracles-Artagnes, another eagle, and another lion. Notice the mix of Persian and Greek influences found in the details of each statue.
Getting There and Away
There are several options for visiting Mount Nemrut and the surrounding ruins. Most tourists base themselves either in Kahta or Malatya where you can take a half day or full day tour. One extreme option, that we do not recommend, is taking a tour all the way from Cappadocia. The option we chose was to catch a bus from Cappadocia to Kahta and then catch a mini bus to the town of Karadut which is not far from the Nemrut summit.
The bus towards Karadut does not enter town and drops you off at the nearest junction. Our Pension owner was there waiting to pick us up when we arrived at the junction. In town there are several pensions that look more or less the same. We chose Karadut Pansiyon which had a lovely family running the place and good (but repetitive) meals. A room cost 100 lira.
You can also do the short or long tour from Karadut but we just simply wanted to go up to Mount Nemrut and back. Our pension took us there and back (including wait time) for 90 lira. Even from Karadut, it is a long uphill drive to the top of Nemrut.
If you are continuing east after Mount Nemrut, you will have to catch a bus from Khata to Malatya before any other connections. If you are heading west, buses head to Cappadocia directly from khata.
Mount Nemrut: A View into the Tiny and Short lived Kingdom of Commagne
A visit to Mount Nemrut’s lonely and solemn peak is a hint towards what the vast and less visited east of Turkey has to offer. Starring into the carved face of a mostly unknown king and gazing out into the vista that the tomb offers is a memorable experience and a good start to your trip to the east.