Suddenly, getting up at 2 am for sunrise on Mt. Nemrut seemed like a very bad idea. As we got ready to go out, we couldn’t help but wonder why we didn’t choose to go see sunset given how much time to spare we had the previous day. Of course, a few hours later, we’d be telling a different story.
Mt. Nemrut, rising up to a height of 2150 m in the Anti-Taurus Range, stands between Malatya and Kahta. At the summit are two temples, facing east and west respectively, built on a cut ledge in between which an artificially mountain peak of piled crushed rocks has been built, by the order of Antiochus I of Commagene, a megalomaniac king in the pre-Roman period. It is believed that the tomb of the king and three of his female relatives rest underneath this massive pile of rocks although until now, nothing yet has been found. Both temples have a similar plan, with statues of Antiochus and syncretistic gods, his ancestors as per him, used to sit in rows.
The heads of the statues have been separated from their bodies and are not scattered throughout the site. Whilst some say that the damage can be attributed to earthquakes, the pattern of the damage suggests that they had been deliberately removed as a result of iconoclasm. Nemrut may refer to the Nimrod, the Babylonian King who proclaimed himself as a god and was worshipped by his subjects. Informed by the astrologers of the impending birth of Abraham who would but an end to this idolatry, he ordered the killing of all newborns in the kingdom. The mother of Abraham, pregnant, manages to escape and give birth to him secretly. Later, a confrontation between Nimrod and Abraham occurs, considered a symbol of polytheism vs. monotheism.
The site has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1987. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we were climbing the remaining 600 m from where we had been dropped off. We had avoided looking at pictures just so it wouldn’t ruin the surprise. And yes it was totally worth missing a night’s sleep. As we stood shivering from the chilly wind (even in peak summer, it was still quite cold and not even my jacket helped to keep me warm), we were completely lost in the beauty that was awakening before us.
The tour included a drive through the whole Mt. Nemrut National Park rather than just shuttling us to the summit, which was one more reason why we chose to join one rather than solo-ing it. Although calling it a tour would be quite ambitious in all honesty; it was mostly the driver stopping us at different areas for a 3-second picture. He was quite generous though and gave us enough time to explore while he sat to have a tea at one of the Kurdish ‘cafés’ near the sights.