Commagene, the intersection point of Eastern and Western civilizations, means “Community of Peoples” in Greek. It is a powerful kingdom that aimed to connect the Greek and Persian civilizations in terms of faith and culture. German engineer Karl Sester’s excavations played a major role in the historical discovery of Mount Nemrut near Kahta, which has fascinating statues up to 8 meters in length and was included in the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1987.
Osman Hamdi Bey, the first Turkish archaeologist and founder of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, carried out important studies here. The world-famous photographer Ara Güler made Mount Nemrut recognized with the photographs he took for the German Der Stern magazine.
History of the Commagene Kingdom
In order to better understand Mount Nemrut, it is useful to give a brief information about the kingdom of the period. The Kingdom of Commagene was established around the Euphrates River. However, until the Commagene Kingdom gained importance in history and became a state, there were many kingdoms that wanted to keep that region under their sovereignty. The Assyrians under the leadership of King Sargon were defeated by the Babylonians. Then the people of Commagene witnessed the superiority of the Persians over Babylon and the superiority of Alexander the Great’s army over the Persians.
King Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s heirs (founder of Zeugma and Antioch) ruled in this region for a while. The Euphrates is important because it is a natural border separating the East and the West and therefore an important trade center. In 130 BC, the east of the Euphrates was under the influence of Persia and the west of the Euphrates was under the influence of Rome under Alexander the Great. Since there was no blood relation between them, they did not see each other as a people. The then King of Commagene, King Mithridates I. Kallinikos, a relative of Alexander the Great, married the Persian princess Laodike. Thus, they also established a blood relationship. Eventually these two noble people had a son named Antiochus I (the name of Laodike’s father).
King Mithridates contacted the gods in order to smooth the rift between the peoples and to protect the people from the influence of outside forces who wanted to conquer the Euphrates region. By claiming that the gods have agreed to protect the people, he brings the people together. In order to stay in touch with God, he starts to build small temples called tumuli at various points. After King Antiochus I ascends his father’s throne, the kingdom reaches cultural and economic heights never reached before. He reached the largest borders of the kingdom (today’s Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep and Adıyaman). He named himself Theos (God) for his achievements.
The Roman Emperor Marcus Antonius, who entered Anatolia in 65 BC and took many places under his sovereignty, besieged the Samsat Castle in Samsat, the then capital of Commagene, following his endless successful conquests. This siege resulted in an embarrassing defeat for the Roman Empire. The most important weapon of victory was the discovery that oil, which they did not yet know, was flammable and combustible. After this victory, which made Antiochus I even more proud of himself, he began work on a mausoleum at the summit of the 2,150-meter-high Mount Nemrut. He thought that the bigger the mausoleum, the more respect he would receive when he became a god after his death.
King Antiochus I, whose most important goal was to unite the eastern and western cultures (Hellenism), had statues of a mixture of East and West built on the East and West terraces of the mausoleum. These statues, which have the same arrangement on both terraces, are referred to in both Greek and Persian languages as they represent both sides. The sculptures begin with guardians. These are the lion, symbolizing the power of the earth, and the eagle, symbolizing the power of the heavens. In the 1st row of statues in between is the statue of Antiochus Theos I, King of Commagene, who equated himself with the gods. The 2nd statue is of Fortuna (Commagene / Tyche), which means luck, fertility. 3rd is the statue of Zeus / Oromasdes, considered the father of all gods in Greek mythology. The 4th statue is of Apollo / Mithras-Helios-Hermes, son of Zeus, god of light and sun. The 5th statue is of Heracles / Artagnes-Ares, the symbol of power, known in Anatolia as Hercules. Today, only the body parts are intact on one terrace, while the head is intact on the other terrace.
The Testament of King Antiochus I
Behind the statues on the east and west sides of the tumulus is the will of King Antiochus I, written in Greek and identical on both terraces. In this inscription, Homos, as he was called, wrote down everything he had done and everything he wanted to happen after his death. Here is a short part of the inscription, but the original is much longer.
So, as you can see, I had the gods erect these statues that they really deserve: Zeus of Oromasdes, Apollo of Mithras, Helios of Hermes, Artagnes of Heracles, Ares of Ares, and Commagene, my homeland that nourishes all things. I had my own statue placed beside those of the same stone and on the same thrones with the gods who heard the prayers. Thus I made the eternal dignity of the great gods contemporary with my own young fortune. And thus I became a righteous imitator of their infinite care and patronage, which they bestowed upon me, often and concretely, as a gracious aid, in my royal undertakings.
There is also a Lion Horoscope (Star Map) on the western side of the Nemrut Tumulus. On the body of the lion there are 19 constellations, a crescent moon and 3 symbols with 16 lights, these are the planets Mars, Mercury and Jupiter. The juxtaposition of these 3 planets happens every 25,000 years and astrologically speaking, 69 BC corresponds to July 14, 19:37. This date was thought to be the date King Antiochus I ascended the throne. The horoscope found by Osman Hamdi Bey is the oldest known horoscope in the world.
There is an ancestral gallery in the northern part of the Mount Nemrut Tumulus. Antiochus had reliefs of 7 people from his father’s and mother’s sides. In order for this to be a tradition and for his children and grandchildren to have their statues made, he brought 180 ready-made stones. This is the reason why there are big stones around the tumulus. Theos built a tunnel from the burial chamber to the outside and created an artificial mound with a diameter of 150 meters and a height of 70 meters with crushed stone.
It is said that there were 3 people in this tomb. King Theos, his father Mithridates I and a religious official. The reason why it is not known for certain is that the tomb structure was built in such a way that it collapsed as soon as it was entered. Since no one could enter, it is known as the only unrobbed king’s tomb from the Hellenistic period. With modern technological devices, the gaps in the tumulus have been detected, but it is still unclear what happened. The tumulus, which has preserved its mystery for thousands of years, has been excavated unconsciously in its time, but no results have been reached.
Where is Mount Nemrut and how to get there?
Mount Nemrut is located in Kahta district of Adıyaman within the borders of Mount Nemrut National Park. The distance of Nemrut from Adıyaman is 80 km. However, if you want to go to Mount Nemrut and witness the sunrise, you should stay in a hotel in Kahta.
Accommodation in Mount Nemrut and where to stay?
We stayed at Nemrut Kommagene Hotel. The hotel organized daily tours to Mount Nemrut and its surroundings. Since the roads were bad and we had to get up early and travel in the dark, we preferred the tour provided by the hotel. You can also get information about the tour and tour prices from your hotel. Many hotels organize tours or have some kind of agreement. You can find our detailed travel article in Adıyaman Travel Guide.
How to get to Mount Nemrut?
The vehicles go up to the resting facilities one kilometer from the summit of Mount Nemrut. After that, it’s just a hike. A beautiful 600 meter walk awaits you. It is not that easy to reach the summit, your shoes should be sneakers. It is not a place to climb in slippers, you may sprain your foot. It is a long climb and the cold that penetrates your bones is constantly trying to deter you. But do not give up. If you are old, have a disability and want to see the top, you can go up and down with the mules in the neighborhood for a certain fee.
When to go to Mount Nemrut?
The weather on Mount Nemrut can be generally cool for those who go to the sunrise, because the altitude of Mount Nemrut is 2150 meters, it is in your best interest to have a blanket. When you arrive at the top, you can see blankets on those who come prepared. If you don’t want to take a blanket, dress very tightly. Gloves, beanie and scarf would not be bad either. Let’s add that Mount Nemrut summit climbing is generally preferred in spring and summer.
What is the entrance fee for Mount Nemrut?
Mount Nemrut is located within the borders of Mount Nemrut National Park. Since it is a national park, the entrance is paid. The fee is paid somewhere on the way to Nemrut. For travelers who want to camp on Mount Nemrut, Mount Nemrut National Park Karadut Day Camp Area has been opened for visitors. We did not go there, but this is what we heard. Since camping is forbidden on Mount Nemrut, it is good that there is a campground nearby.
The sunrise and sunset on Mount Nemrut are both spectacular. It is well worth the effort, this colorful and magnificent view is enough to warm you up even in the cold. As someone who has been to both, I recommend the sunrise. While you are here, Kahta Castle, Arsemia Ancient City and Cendere Bridge should also be on your list of places to visit.
Where is Mount Nemrut?
The distance of Mount Nemrut to the center of Adıyaman is 85km, and since the roads are winding, this distance can be covered in 1h 30min. The distance to Gaziantep Mount Nemrut National Park is 240km (3h 30min), the distance to Şanlıurfa is 200km (3h) and the distance to Diyarbakır is 170km (2h 20min).