Exploring Mount Nemrut: A Visitor's Guide
About 160 kilometers from Kahta, Mount Nemrut is home to the fascinating funerary mound of King Antiochus I of the Kingdom of Commagene. On top of its 2,150-meter peak is a 50-meter-high man-made burial mound, underneath which Antiochus' tomb is thought to be concealed somewhere (despite extensive archaeological work at the site, his actual tomb has never been found). On top of the mound is one of east Turkey's prime tourist attractions; the spectacular terraces littered with the remnants of the giant statues that were once majestically lined up to celebrate Antiochus' own glory and the glory of the gods. If you only have time to pick one thing to see in eastern Turkey, Mount Nemrut can't be beaten. Come here for sunrise on the summit to experience the true magic of the setting.
Note that due to snow closing the road to the summit, the mountain is only accessible from around May to October. Also, be aware that from the summit car park to the funerary terraces, there is a 600-meter uphill walk.
During the days of the competing Roman and Parthian (Persian) Empires, this region found itself right on the border between the two giant rivals. Formerly part of the Roman Empire, Commagene and its governor, Mithridates I, declared independence. When Mithridates I died in 64 BC, his son Antiochus I claimed the crown and took his tiny kingdom's independence further, signing treaties with both Rome and the Parthians. It was actions such as these that led Antiochus to believe Commagene (and himself) to be more important than they actually were and eventually led to his downfall, when he was deposed by the Romans in 38 BC.
The most complete statuary are on the East Terrace, although the statues have all lost their giant heads, which now sit incongruously on the ground beside the bodies. The colossal figures of the gods face the main altar. In addition to eagle and lion representation, the Greco-Persian deities here are Zeus Oromasdes, Heracles-Verethragna-Artagnes-Ares, Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes, and Commagene-Tyche. Antiochus I himself is represented here as well. The statues are flanked by broken reliefs depicting Antiochus' lineage. On the northern side, the relief shows his Persian (paternal) ancestors, while to the north, the relief shows his Seleucid (maternal) ancestors.
On the West Terrace, most of the statues are less well preserved, but the heads have not suffered the same fate and are wonderfully lifelike and conserved. Here, you can see the Lion Horoscope, with its astral motifs symbolizing the deification of Antiochus I through the metamorphosis of king into star.