Day 32 (1): a visit to the Gods

Karadut Travel Blog

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sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
I was awoken at 3 in the morning to leave on a sunrise tour to the top of Nemrut Daği, or Mt Nemrut. There had been a good reason why I stayed at Kahta last night, instead of the closer (and nicer) town of Karadut. First off there were quite a few interesting sights on the road between Karadut and Kahta which I wanted to visit, and the tour I had booked at my hotel in Kahta included these sights, and secondly, coming back to Kahta after an early morning tour meant I could easily travel on to my next destination this afternoon.
And even though my hotel in Kahta was possibly the worst place I have ever stayed at, it was worth it for the efficiency.
All by myself at Nemrut Daği (for the time being)
After all, time was running out (or at least it started to feel like that).

Anyhoo, Nemrut Daği, one of the most famous and magical places in Turkey, even though it was only 'discovered' some 130 years ago when a German archeaologist climbed the peak and stumbled across a burial site with huge rock statues. The 2150m peak is the highest in the region but the actual mountain is only 2100m high. At the top a 50m artificial peak has been created as a sort of tomb for some pre-Roman king, Antiochus I Epiphanes. On both sides of the peak, facing east and west, a series of statues have been erected. The statues represent the Greek Gods Apollo, Helios, Fortuna, Zeus, Heracles and Antiochus himself, who viewed himself as equal with the gods.

Although earth-quakes have toppled the heads from the statues, it is still a very impressive place.
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Best time to visit is at sunrise or sunset and I figured sunrise would be the quietest of the two (plus that I like to watch sunrises from mountaintops).
I thought we would be climbing to the summit of the mountain, but in fact we drove up to a car park, complete with souvenir shop, café and toilets at 2000m, and we only had the last 100m to climb (which took about 15 minutes). Damn, I so needed the exercise.

Apart from the three Egyptian girls who travelled on the same tour as I did, there was another large tour group making their way up the path. Couldn't exactly make our where they came from, I think they were Turkish though. Whatever they were, they were a loud bunch.

I was the first to arrive at the top and for about 10 minutes I had the place all to myself.
Statues of Nemrut Daği
That is when the rest of the groups arrived. I don't want to think about what this place must look like in summer. There were maybe 25 people at the top with me, and already did it feel crowded (they were very very loud). So imagine high season when hundreds of people visit this place per day.

When I arrived at the top it was still before sunrise, though a little streak of orange was already forming on the horizon. I wandered around a little bit and admire the statues in the early light of dawn. Though the heads lay toppled from the statues, the 5 metre high statues themselves were pretty much intact. It is quite impressive how someone could have created this over 2000 years ago. Especially when bearing in mind that the stones used for the statues are not taken from the mountain itself.
Statues on the Western side of the mountain
After all, additional rocks were needed to create the 50m artificial top on the mountain.

The sunrise was quite a beauty. Well worth getting up early for.

Once the sun was up we walked around the artificial summit to have a look at the statues on the Western side. Here the statues are exactly the same, in the same order, though the bodies have all but disappeared but the heads are in much better nick than on the eastern side. Probably due to the weather conditions.

Back down we had a quick coffee break and then went back towards Kahta - the long way. The road up the mountain had been a surprisingly good and comfortable road, but on the way back we were taking an alternative route down via mostly steep unpaved roads snaking down the mount through tiny villages.
Old seljuk bridge with fortress perched high up in the canyon behind
Very picturesque.

We stopped at Ersi Kali, or Arsameia. This is the site of the ancient capital of the short-lived Commagene kingdom (of which Antiochus I Epiphanes, the guy who ordered the statues on  Nemrut Daği, was king). The site lies at a very steep side of the mountain and it makes you wonder how they ever built a city up here. However they did it, there isn't much left. All ruins of houses and temples have long since been demolished and its stones used to build a nearby fortress. However, there are a few stellae, depicting various Gods, and some of these are in exceptional good condition. One of these is a virtually undamaged stone relief of King Mithrandes I shaking hands with the god Heracles. It is amazing to find such a mint piece on a hillside in the middle of nowhere.
stellae in Arsameia
Why this has not been taken to a museum puzzles me (though I quite liked its present home).

Next stop was a beautiful old Selçuk bridge in a canyon, with a striking 13th century Mamulk fortress nested in the canyon behind it. Once again, very picturesque and it makes you wonder just how did they get the building up there? (and why?).

The selçuk bridge had been nice and interesting, but the real highlight is an almost intact Roman humback bridge over the Cendere river. Not only does it remain almost in its original state after 2000 years, it also remained in use for most of those 2000 years until a new modern road road bridge was constructed next to it in 1973.
Once again proof that those Romans were pretty good at building indeed.

We arrived back in Kahta I hadn't really made my mind up yet on where to go next.
mint relief depicting the god Heracles shaking hands with King Mithrandes
The idea was Diyarbakır, but the owner of the pension kept on bugging me about his tour to Urfa. Urfa, judging from the description in the Lonely Planet, was a very nice city to visit as well. However, I didn't want to take another tour with these people. The morning tour had not been much of a tour, but rather a very expensive taxi ride. I am pretty sure the four of us would have been cheaper off just hiring a taxi instead. So it hadn't been very good value. But what was worse was that the guy just kept on pushing and pushing me to take his tour. And I hate it when people push me. By now I had also found out that he would quote different prices to different people for his tours (the Egyptian girls had paid more for the tour than I had) which only contributes to Kahta's reputation of being a rip-off town.
Kahta river with the old bridge and the old Roman bridge in the distance


So I decided to travel to Urfa on my own devices. Even if this would mean missing out on some sights in the surroundings of Urfa (buses after all don't stop for tourist sights). Anything better than going with him. When I told him he got quite cross with me, almost aggressive. Why would I not want to go with him, he made good price, petrol is expensive in Turkey, I should not compare with other countries, compared to Holland the tour is still cheap, etc etc etc.
I explained to him that I didn't want to go with him because his tours are just very bad value for money. Had this morning's “tour” included the entrance fee to the national park, or something like a breakfast, or had the 'guide' been able to say a little bit more than “on left: bridge” then it would have been a tour proper.
old Roman bridge
Now it was no more than a taxi ride. I also tried explaining that his way of 'selling' was really annoying. To illustrate I was not the only one thinking like this I let him read just what the Lonely Planet writes about his venture.

Obviously it was all the fault of the guy who had checked me in yesterday, he runs the tours. The guy who had offered me the 'tour' to Urfa just runs the pension and did some tours on the side. Blah blah blah. I reckoned it was best not to tell him how much I had hated his dirty pension. I just wanted to get away from this place and find a bus. Preferably one to Urfa, but otherwise  Diyarbakır would suit me just fine.

To his defence, he did listen to me and attempted to understand my reasoning, although whatever I said resulted in a flood of excuses. He no longer tried to sell me his tours though and offered me a lift to the otogar instead. Well, at least that was nice of him.

ik-ben-10eke says:
My goodness, wat mooi!
Posted on: Jun 26, 2010
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sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
All by myself at Nemrut Daği (for…
All by myself at Nemrut Daği (fo…
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Statues of Nemrut Daği
Statues of Nemrut Daği
Statues on the Western side of the…
Statues on the Western side of th…
Old seljuk bridge with fortress pe…
Old seljuk bridge with fortress p…
stellae in Arsameia
stellae in Arsameia
mint relief depicting the god Hera…
mint relief depicting the god Her…
Kahta river with the old bridge an…
Kahta river with the old bridge a…
old Roman bridge
old Roman bridge
The statues on Nemrut Daği at dawn
The statues on Nemrut Daği at dawn
first tourists arrive
first tourists arrive
I have the exact same picture take…
I have the exact same picture tak…
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
here comes the sun...
here comes the sun...
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Sunrise seen from Nemrut Daği
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
Statues in early morning light
last snow on the shadowside of the…
last snow on the shadowside of th…
Statues on the Western side of the…
Statues on the Western side of th…
Statues on the Western side of the…
Statues on the Western side of th…
View from Nemrut Daği
View from Nemrut Daği
Arsameia
Arsameia
Seljuk bridge
Seljuk bridge
Mamluk fortress
Mamluk fortress
Mamluk fortress
Mamluk fortress
at the Roman Bridge
at the Roman Bridge
Karadut
photo by: Deats