Places We Go / Turkey

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Situated between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, Northern Mesopotamia is actually South East Turkey.

With so many worthwhile places to see in this area, one that probably should not be missed is what has been described as the eighth wonder of the ancient world – Mount Nemrut. Now, I think “eighth wonder” might be overstating it a bit, but it is nevertheless worth a visit if you are ever near Adıyaman.

The tourists go to watch the sun rise, but having done this, I strongly advise against it. Go later in the day and you will not freeze your ass off, you’ll be able to see where you’re walking on the way up and you will be alone on the mountain.

The huge stone heads on the summit of Mount Nemrut were built by King Antiochus I Theos, who ruled the Commagene kingdom between 64 and 38 B.C. To glorify his rule, the king had three enormous terraces (east, west and north) cut into the mountaintop. Colossal statues of himself and the major gods (Greek, Armenian and Persian) of the kingdom were placed on the terraces, and the summit became a sanctuary where the king was worshipped. Today’s visitors can still see the remains of the east and west terraces (not much is left of the north terrace), which also feature large, detailed stone reliefs.

The site was re-discovered in 1881 by German engineer, Karl Sester, but was not fully documented until the 1990s.

King Antiochus had the site constructed so that he was seated next to the gods Hercules, Zeus-Oromasdes (associated with the Persian god Ahura Mazda), Tyche, and Apollo-Mithras all of whom were flanked by two eagles and two lions. These statues were once seated, with the names of each god inscribed on them.

The heads of the statues were at some stage in history removed from their bodies and they are now scattered throughout the site. The pattern of damage to the heads (notably to noses) suggests that they were deliberately damaged because of the belief in iconoclasm.

Excavations have failed to reveal the tomb of Antiochus. However, this is still believed to be the site of his burial.


The drive out to Kurdish Turkey is worth taking even if you have no intention of visiting any of the surrounding attractions. The scenery along the way is remarkable and the roads vary from dirt tracks to amazing highways seemingly built for racing.

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

The first waves of light from the sunrise hitting Mount Nemrut:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Here you can clearly see the “beheaded” statues in the background with one of the heads in the foreground:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Here is another view of the statues with the tumulus (an artificial mound of stones) behind them:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

This is the head of Zeus:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Here’s another view of Zeus’s head next to the head of an eagle:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

A good view of the configuration of the statues and heads as they appear today:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

This is the trail up the mountain that we took in the dark:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Walking isn’t the only way up to the top though as Jimmy Ames discovered when he utilized this donkey… There are a couple of caretakers that camp out on the site (which must be a pretty grim existence) that use the donkeys as well:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

The mountain is 2,134 meters (7,001 feet) high and it really was cold up there. I can’t imagine what the winters are like:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

I was quite taken with the views as well as the alpine scenery at the top of the mountain:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

As was, apparently, Jimmy Ames:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Skirting around the edge of the mountaintop to the west terrace… There is evidence of a walled passageway linking the eastern and western terraces, but one goes on the outside these days:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

The west terrace… The heads are still in decent shape on this side, but the statues have deteriorated badly.

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

I believe this is the head of Tyche – the Commagene goddess of fortune:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Some of the life-size stone reliefs that used to form part of the west terrace… Among these is a large slab with a lion, showing the arrangement of stars and the planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars on 7 July 62 BC, the possible time when construction began on the monument. It is believed to be one of the oldest horoscope representations in the world:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

My ego shot to prove I was there:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

And speaking of ego shots, this is the head of King Antiochus who seated himself amongst the gods of the time:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Heading back down the mountain, it was a lot easier to admire the scenery than when we ascended in the dark:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

The drive out was a hell of a lot better too – but probably not for those afraid of heights:

Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Beware the monument.

Please bear with me for a moment and recall the famous short poem that Shelley published in 1818, entitled Ozymandias:

I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.


5 thoughts on “Mount Nemrut, Turkey

    • Thanks for your speculation, Ed. The conical mountain is indeed artificial – the top of Mount Nemrut is believed to have been formed from chunks of rock used in the creation of the terraces. However, what is under the pile of rocks is open to speculation as it has never been properly explored. So, underneath the conical mountain there could indeed be the remains of an ancient structure or the tomb of King Antiochus which has yet to be found.

      • I was curious because .. it seems that more than a few ‘mountains’ in Peru have been found to be eroded ruins of pyramids. Hope someone makes a determined effort someday to find out.

  1. Pingback: Cendere Roman Bridge, Turkey « The Velvet Rocket

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