Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mt. Nemrut: Where the Gods Lay Their Heads

Today we stood knee-deep in Euphrates River water, north of Malatya in southeastern Anatolia. Only a few miles further east, archaeologists are presently uncovering a 7,000-year old city called Arslantepe. Along this river (and the Tigris, which we will visit soon) some of the oldest known human settlements occurred. This water has supported some of humanity's earliest agriculture and communities, along with the dreams and follies of kings.

On a 7,000 foot mountaintop to the south (with distant views of the Euphrates River valley as it curves east, turns back to the west, and then bends south toward Syria), a 1st century B.C. king named Antioches built a monument to Roman and Persian gods so he could place his own statue among them. The exquisitely sculpted heads were forgotten by history until they were rediscovered in 1882. Major restoration was not complete until the early 1980s. The remote summit of Nemrut Dagi National Park lies exactly on our line at 37°59'50''. This is one of Turkey's must-see treasures, though it takes considerable effort for travelers to reach the mountain. We opted for an overnight trip from Malatya that required a 3-hour shuttle to a hotel that nestles one mile below the summit. With two other tourists (from Croatia) we visited the 2 terraces and sculptures at sunset and were woken at 4 AM to return for sunrise.

The massive heads, fallen from their bodies above, have a mystical quality that immediately captivates. Fine sculptors shaped the likenesses of Apollo, Zeus, Hercules, Tyche and, of course, King Antiochos. Honey- colored stone reflects the changing light, and the setting, on a summit crowned with small stones that may cover burial chambers, is magnificent. The green valley, rock outcroppings and wildflower gardens reminded us of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite.

King Antiochos left a truly striking memorial behind two thousand years ago, and visitors today can share a bit of his dream of being with the gods on a mountaintop.

As for that wading experience in the Euphrates, we were actually in the Karakaya Reservoir. Turkey has built many dams in this region in recent decades...and that is our next topic to explore when we reach the Tigris River.

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