Travel: Devine figures of Nemrut Dagi 

Walking amongst the gods atop a UNESCO World Heritage site

click to enlarge Figures of the Western Terrace
  • Figures of the Western Terrace

Some historians believe that King Antiochus I — who reigned over the peaceable if short-lived Kommagene kingdom in what is now southeastern Turkey in the 1 st century BC — was a man before his time.

They argue that in erecting statues of Greek gods and Persian ancestors on Mount Nemrut — a UNESCO World Heritage Site and important visual symbol for Turkey — Antiochus, with this mixed heritage, believed he was bringing together forces for good (that is the leading gods of his day).

Others say that in placing godly figures, along with several that depict himself, on the highest mountain in the region, then adding 50 metres of height to the mountain in the form of broken rocks, and finally ensuring that he’d be buried within this tumulus, Antiochus was elevating himself to the realm of divinity.

Whatever the truth, Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dagi in Turkish, pronounced “nem-root dah-ah”) is one of the great antiquarian sites of Turkey, and the culmination of a two-week tour through Eastern Turkey with the English company Explore.

The coach tour — 16 of us, with a Turkish guide — began in Trabzond on the Black Sea, and continued to Mount Ararat and the ancient Armenian city of Ani. We passed through traditional Turkish countryside. Young men herded goats, while others manned regular military checkpoints along the highways.

In this Kurdish part of Turkey, an undercurrent of pro-Kurdish feeling — exacerbated by gun battles between Kurdish dissidents and Turkish soldiers along the border and in Iraq — is never far from anyone’s mind. Occasionally, embedded on a hillside, we’d see a patriotic message in giant lettering that would read — in Turkish and aimed at Kurds — something along the lines: “We do everything for our homeland.”

That said, we felt safe and welcome. We moseyed around the border town of Dogubeyazit, and stood awestruck in the courtyard of the Isak Pasha Palace, an abandoned 18 th -century luxury retreat, both in the shadow of Mt. Ararat. We boated to Akdamar Island on Lake Van, with its Armenian basilica, and spent several days in Mardin, a city of golden stone said to resemble Jerusalem. Finally, we headed north from Sanliurfa, reputed to be the birthplace of Abraham, to the Mount Nemrut region.

While the Mt. Nemrut statues and reliefs have survived two millennia of winter snows (the mountain is only accessible in summer) and innumerable earthquakes, they were unknown to the outside world until 1881. In that year a German engineer named Karl Sester, employed by the Ottoman government to build a road to the city of Diyarbakir, reported seeing “many magnificent statues on a peak in the Anti-Taurus Mountains.” The Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin was informed, and sent a team to investigate. Plaster copies were made of the statues, then believed to have been the work of the Assyrians, and several reports published.

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