12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Mount Nemrut Region
For most visitors, heading to Turkey's southeast Anatolia region means one thing–a trip to the mighty stone heads of Mount Nemrut. The Nemrut statues of King Antiochus may be the main tourist attraction, but the raw landscapes of steep plateau and peaks in the Mount Nemrut region are home to plenty more sightseeing opportunities and things to do for those interested in Turkey's early history and traditional culture.
Near the mountain are many cult and burial sites from the Commagene era, while destinations such as Old Malatya and Darende have a lost-in-time atmosphere that can't be beaten. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in the Mount Nemrut region.
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1. Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dagi)
The most famous of southeast Turkey's tourist attractions are the stately stone heads upon the peak of Mount Nemrut. Discovered in 1881 by a German engineer, the statues mark the funerary mound of King Antiochus of Commagene (64-34 BC), who had shrewdly turned this tiny portion of Anatolia into an independent kingdom between Rome and Persia.
Later, earthquakes knocked the two-meter-high heads from the towering statues and they now sit upon the ground. Most visitors come at sunrise or sunset, when the stone heads glow in the golden light.
2. Arsameia (Eski Kale)
Founded in the 3rd century BC, this cult and burial site in Mt. Nemrut National Park was the summer residence of the Commagene rulers. In addition to the remains of steps and buildings on the summit plateau (with mosaics from the 2nd century BC), there are a number of reliefs and rock-chambers on the way up to the top.
The first large stele relief depicts the god Mithras-Helios, while the middle relief shows the Commagene King Mithridates and his son Antiochus I. From here, there is a rock tunnel leading to a burial chamber. A further relief depicts Mithridates shaking hands with the demigod Hercules.
3. Cendere Bridge
This well-preserved Roman bridge crosses the Cendere River (the ancient Chabinas River) at a point where the river emerges from an impressive gorge in the wide Kahta Valley. It was built between AD 198 and 200 by a Roman general stationed in Samsat (ancient Samosata) and dedicated to Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and their sons Caracalla and Geta. According to an inscription, four Commagene towns financed the building.
If you have your own transport, the Cendere Bridge makes a good half-day road trip when combined with Arsameia and Karakus.
For history fans wanting to poke about a bit deeper into the Commagene kingdom, a trip to this Commagene tumulus (burial site) in Mt. Nemrut National Park is well worth the time. It was erected by Mithridates II (36-20 BC) in memorial for his mother Isias, sister Laodice, and niece Aka.
Out of the original three pairs of columns that once graced this spot, only four columns still survive. Check out the southernmost column to see the eagle crowning the top and the northeast column, with its preserved bull sculpture on top.
5. Around Adiyaman and Kahta
Adiyaman is a bustling provincial center that doesn't have much in the way of sights. In the Old Town, visitors can see the ruins of the Hisn Mansur Fortress, which dates from the early Umayyad period and was later restored by the Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rachid (AD 789-809). Also in the Old Town is an interesting Islamic tomb, the Ebu-Zer Gaffer Türbesi.
Kahta (35 kilometers east) is even less endowed with sights, but it's the closest town to the tourist attractions of Mt. Nemrut National Park, so many visitors choose to stay here.
About 30 kilometers south of Adiyaman is the vast Atatürk Dam extending over an area of 817 square kilometers. The dam is a key element in a series of Tigris and Euphrates River dams known as the GAP Project.
As Turkish history goes, Malatya is a new town with its center only 150 years old. For centuries, this site was simply the garden suburb of Aspuzu, which serviced the population of Old Malatya nearby.
In the winter of 1838, Ottoman troops were billeted in Old Malatya and left it in ruins. When the population returned, they moved to Aspuzu, and modern Malatya was born. There is an interesting Ethnography Museum on Simena Caddesi, and the Malatya Museum (Fuzuli Caddesi) is worthwhile popping into for its exhibits from the Aslantepe excavations.
Although it may be little known outside of archaeological circles, Aslantepe is an important site. Excavations here have uncovered the remains of the neo-Hittite city of Milidia, as well as finds from later Assyrian-era domination.
The most important ruins unearthed are the remnants of a late Hittite-era palace, as well as large stone slabs inscribed with relief carvings, and monumental lion portals. Excellent information panels at the site explain its importance to archaeological knowledge and really aid your understanding.
8. Old Malatya (Battalgazi)
The ruins of Old Malatya, about 12 kilometers from Malatya, lie on the old road to Erzincan and Sivas. Surrounded by poplar trees and fruit orchards, this old walled city is highly atmospheric. You can still see the remnants of the Byzantine walls on the southern side, with defensive ditches, tower bastions, and four gates still standing.
The now partly-buried Ulu Camii (mosque) was built in 1247 on the foundations of an older 7th-century mosque. Inside, you can pass through the galleried inner courtyard and the divan, decorated with glazed tiles, into the domed prayer room. The Yeni Camii nearby dates from the Seljuk era.
In the northeast of the town stands Mustafa Pasa Hani, a well-preserved caravanserai founded between 1623 and 1640.
Dominated by the medieval Zengibar Castle, the rather charming and traditional village of Darende (100 kilometers west of Malatya) is set along a river in a beautiful gorge, with great rafting opportunities in the Tohma Canyon. As recently as 1840, the castle was still occupied by at least 40 houses, but locals abandoned their hilltop perch in 1890. A Hittite stele of the god Sarruma has been found within the castle site.
During summer weekends, locals flock to the gorge here for picnicking, which can give the place something of a carnival atmosphere. For a quieter experience, come on a weekday.
About 126 kilometers west of Malatya, the town of Elbistan is overlooked by the medieval fortifications of Kiz Kalesi castle five kilometers to the west. The castle marks the position of former Elbistan-Kara (or Secret Elbistan). Finds here include a stone bowl belonging to a cult of sun-worshipers and Hittite-era figurines of the goddess Anahita.
Just five kilometers northwest of town, upon the Elbistan plain, is the Karahüyük archaeological site. Archaeologists working at this Hittite settlement have unearthed many interesting finds including a memorial stele to a Hittite prince, which is now on display at Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
Just to the west of the town of Afsin are the ancient ruins of Arabissos, which developed as the crossroads for two main trading routes from east to west.
Also of interest here are the Seljuk period ruins, which consist of a mosque, caravanserai, and ribat. The ruined caravanserai is made up of an asymmetrical four-aisled winter hall with two separate sections. The mosque has a three-aisled prayer hall and flat roof, while the attached ribat has a maze of rooms and a typical Seljuk pointed-arch portal.
The Roman ruins of Castaballa are 15 kilometers to the northeast. Due north of Afsin, on the old route to Kayseri, stands the Seljuk Kuruhan (caravanserai), and another five kilometers along the road, the Seljuk castle of Hurman Kalesi, which simultaneously controlled three mountain passes.
12. Çermik & Egil
The area around the city of Diyarbakir has plenty to see for history lovers. Some 60 kilometers northwest of Diyarbakir, you'll find the medieval fortress of Çermik Kalesi, which stands guard over the town of Çermik. Just to the south of town there are some very impressive rock formations in the limestone uplands of Devkan Tepesi.
Around 50 kilometers north of Diyarbakir is the town of Egil. Southeast of town, an ancient fort perches upon a steep rock high above the gorge of the upper Tigris River. It's thought to have been built some time in the first millennium BC. There are also remains of rock tombs in the cliffs here.
If conditions are right, late in the day, it is possible to make out a relief of Assyrian origin (dating to about 720 BC) on the fortress rock, depicting a god armed with an axe and sword.
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In the Region: After Mount Nemrut, head to Mardin for its fine stone buildings and churches, clinging to a hillside, then feast on baklava and view mosaics in Gaziantep. If you're heading farther east, Sanliurfa is a top stop for its castle remains looming above the minaret-studded city and the archaeological site of Göbeklitepe just out of town.
More Historic Sites: The Mount Nemrut region is crammed full of historic sites. For more, check out the lonely Hellenistic ruins of Laodikeia, with its columns spread out over the plains; the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük, one of the most important Neolithic sites in the world; and the North Aegean region, home to the magnificent remnants of Pergamum.