Sunrise as seen from the summit of Nemrut Dağı.

Nemrut Dağı — Mount Nemrut — Turkey

Nemrut Dağı

Nemrut Dağı, or Mount Nemrut, is a 2134 meter tall mountain in eastern Turkey, near Malatya, Adıyaman, and Kahta. Nemrut Dağı is topped by a strange collection of huge statues put there around 62 BC by Antiochos I Theos of Commagene, a megalomanical king. The collection of statues is a hierothesion, it is intended to represent the king and his relatives, the deities of all the surrounding Greek, Armenian, and Iranian civilizations:
• Vahagn / Artagnes — Herecles — Ares
• Oromasdes / Aramzd — Zeus
• Ahura Mazda
• Bakht — Tyche
• Mihr / Mithras — Apollo — Helios — Hermes

Antiochus created a royal cult for him to be worshipped after his death. It was based on the Greek form of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism. Several Greek inscriptions survive explaining Antiochus's religion and why he created it. His tomb should be in an isolated high place, remote from people and close to the gods with whom he should be associated.

The tomb complex was built to host two religious festivals every year, celebrating the anniversary of Antiochus's coronation and his birthday. Priests were appointed, they and their descendants were to conduct the celebrations in perpetuity.

The construction and staff were funded from state properties. All this was not sustainable. The kingdom fell soon after and the site was completely forgetten. It was only rediscovered in the late 1800's when the Germans were surveying for a railroad they were building for Turkey.

Mount Nemrut is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Large stone heads at the summit of Nemrut Dağı, in Eastern Turkey.
Sheep traffic on the rough road up Nemrut Dağı in eastern Turkey.

You can visit Nemrut Dağı on trips out of Malatya and Kahta. You drive up the mountain in the day, visit the site in late afternoon and watch sunset, then retire to a hotel near the summit.

In the morning you get up early to see sunrise from the summit. Then it's breakfast at the hotel and back down the mountain in the late morning.

These pictures show a trip up from the north side, from Malatya. I had arrived on a bus out of Göreme, in Cappadocia, after exploring the fantastic landscape in that area.

Make way for the local traffic!

We're passing a local shepherd as we make our way up the mountain.

Below, we have stopped for a break along the mountain road.

That's our large van and our group on the bridge. Beyond the van you see a local home. And beyond that, above the thin poplar trees, the lower slopes of Nemrut Dağı climb toward the summit.

Stopping to rest on the way up Nemrut Dağı.
A narrow road up Nemrut Dağı.
A small mountain village on the slopes of Nemrut Dağı.

We are continuing along the road up the mountain. It dropped to a single lane soon after we turned off the highway from Malatya.

We're climbing beyond a small mountain village. This was the last settlement on our way up.

The rough hotel near the summit of Nemrut Dağı.

We have arrived near the summit! The hotel is in sight, and the summit is beyond and to its left.

Notice the conical shape of the summit — that's the burial mound, or tumulus, of the megalomanical Antiochos I Theos of Commagene.

The German railway engineers discovered the site when they were sighting mountaintops through a surveying transit.

And yes, that's snow, and these pictures were taken in early June, right after the roads had opened for the brief summer season. Most people visit Nemrut Dağı in June, July, and August, when it's practical to do so.

I'm in front of the hotel with the summit visible beyond it. Yes, it's a little bleak up there, but that's part of the appeal.

The rough hotel near the summit of Nemrut Dağı.
The rough hotel near the summit of Nemrut Dağı.

The hotel itself could use a coat of paint. Mountain winters are rough in eastern Turkey, and it's hard to build and maintain a structure up here.

We're walking around the hotel to get loosened up after the long ride. Soon it will be time to hike the rest of the way to the summit.

The rough hotel near the summit of Nemrut Dağı.
On the summit platform of Nemrut Dağı.

On the summit platform!

Cults of holy mountains were common among the Late Bronze Age Hittites and their Iron Age descendents. Local inscriptions in Luwian speak of kings named Suppiluliuma and Hattusili, lords of the land of Kummaha around 800 BC, who worshiped a sacred mountain named Hurtula. Kummaha was an earlier name for Commagene, Antiochus's kingdom, and Hurtula may have been Mount Nemrut, the tallest peak in Kummaha/Commagene.

The statues have lost their heads over the years. Eastern Turkey is geologically active and there are many earthquakes in the region.

Originally the statues were seated in a row, flanked by a lion and an eagle on each side.

The conical summit tumulus is 49 meters tall and 152 meters in diameter.

Art historians point out that the statues have Greek facial features, but Persian clothing and hairstyles.

The kingdom of Commagene was in the mountains between ancient Greek, Persian, and Armenian civilizations, and so their art borrowed from all of them.

The first picture below shows Herecles / Vahagn / Artagnes in the foreground, with Antiochos himself in the Phrygian cap to the left and the all-providing goddess Commagene to the right.

Monumental stone heads at the summit of Nemrut Dağı.
Large stone heads emerging from the snow on the summit of Nemrut Dağı.

There are spectacular views over wide areas of eastern Turkey, including the areas where both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers begin.

Views from Nemrut Dağı of eastern Turkey, including the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Bas-relief carvings at the summit of Nemrut Dağı.

There are bas-relief carvings, thought to have formed a large frieze. They show ancestors of Antiochus, both real and imaginary.

One of the bas-relief carvings shows an alignment of stars and the planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars on 7 July 62 BC. This might indicate the time when construction began on this monument.

See the paper here for an alternative analysis suggesting that the monument "represents the sky at special moments of the year 49 B.C." Those authors found that the eastern terrace was not aligned with the direction of the sun's rise on the summer solstice, as had been assumed, but was almost 6° away. This would be the direction of the rising of Regulus during the time of Antiochus' reign, which led them to some unusual conjunctions around Regulus during this general period and a possible connection to the design of the hierothesion.

Bas-relief carvings of astronomical alignments at the summit of Nemrut Dağı.

Antiochus followed a very esoteric form of astrology, and directed a calendrical reform that would link the Commagene calendar, a lunisolar one based on the Babilonian calendar, to the Sothic cycle based on the appearance of Sirius and used by the Egyptians. A nomos or inscription here reads:

Also new festivals for the worship of the gods and our honors will be celebrated by all the inhabitants of my kingdom. For my body's birthday, Audnayos the 16th, and for my coronation, Loios the 10th, these days have I dedicated to the great diamones' manifestations who guided me during my fortunate reign. [...] I have additionally consecrated two days annually for each festival.

The daimones were the divinities represented in the statues.

Large stone head at the summit of Nemrut Dağı.
Sunset on the summit of Nemrut Dağı.
Inside the hotel near the summit of Nemrut Dağı.

The low light at sunset can make it easier to see some of the details on parts of the frieze.

Some of these sandstone friezes contain the oldest known images of dexiosis or two figures shaking hands, pushing back the origin of this social interaction.

J.M. DeBord has written Something Coming, a novel set at Nemrut Dağı and featuring King Antiochos I Theos.

Above, we're hanging out in the hotel's dining room after dinner.

We will get up early the next morning to hike back to the summit in the dark and witness sunrise from the summit of Nemrut Dağı. Then it's back down to the hotel for breakfast, and into the van for the ride back to Malatya.


I stayed at the Otel Sihan in Malatya. It's at Atatürk Caddesi #16, +90-(0)422-321-29-07. At the time rooms were US$ 4/6 for single/double with shower and toilet.

The Otel Tehran was nearby and similarly priced, but the Otel Sihan seemed significantly nicer.

Arfentour runs the trip up Nemrut Dağı, it was a great trip! They were at Atatürk Caddesi #40/B, +90-(0)422-325-55-88.