The remote, grandiose mountain-top sanctuary at Nemrut Dağı is unforgettable, while the mighty stone heads that adorn the temple and tomb of King Antiochus have become one of the famous images of Eastern Turkey.
Most visitors want to get here before dawn, in order to watch the sunrise. The majority of the available minibus tours are therefore geared up to suit those timings, despite the drawback of making such an early start – between 2am and 4am, depending on season – and the crowded and chilly conditions at the summit, which is 2150m above sea level. Between late October and April, there’s often snow on the ground. Minibus tours also target sunset, when it’s not so cold, and the setting sun bathes the western terrace in a warm glow. A daytime visit means fewer visitors and the chance to explore the sanctuary at leisure and in the warmth.
The result of one man’s delusions of grandeur, the great tomb and temple complex of Nemrut Dağı was built by Antiochus I Epiphanes (64–38 BC), son of Mithridates I Callinicus, the founder of the Commagene kingdom. A breakaway from the Seleucid Empire, covering only a small territory from modern Adıyaman to Gaziantep, the Commagene dynasty wouldn’t rate much more than a passing mention in histories of the region had Antiochus not chosen to build this colossal monument to himself. Having decided he was divine in nature, or at the very least an equal of the gods, he declared: “I, the great King Antiochus have ordered the construction of these temples…on a foundation which will never be demolished…to prove my faith in the gods. At the conclusion of my life I will enter my eternal repose here, and my spirit will ascend to join that of Zeus in heaven.”
Antiochus’s vanity knew no bounds – he claimed descent from Darius the Great of Persia and Alexander the Great – but eventually he went too far, siding with the Parthians against Rome, and was deposed. This was effectively the end of the Commagene kingdom, which afterwards passed into Roman hands.
The sanctuary lay undiscovered until 1881, when Karl Puchstein, a German engineer, located it while making a survey. Although he returned in 1883 with Karl Humann – the man who removed the Pergamon altar to Berlin – to carry out a more thorough investigation, only in 1953 did a comprehensive American-led archeological survey of the site begin.Read More
Excursions to Nemrut Dagi
Excursions to Nemrut Dagi
Organized minibus trips to Nemrut Dağı run in summer from Kahta, Malatya and Şanlıurfa. Given the distances involved, they are about the only way to get there if you don’t have your own transport. Note that the summit road is usually only open from April 15 until the first snowfall of winter, but outside the peak summer months (July & Aug) there may well be insufficient demand to make up groups each day. For more on the best time of day to visit the site, see Nemrut Dağı.
From Kahta and Karadut
In season, there are sunrise or sunset tours from Kahta – sunset trips leave around 2pm and return at 10pm; sunrise tours leave at around 2am, returning at 10am. Best arranged by the transport cooperative – see Bayram Çınar at the Karadut market, opposite the dolmuş garage – the trips cost TL125 for the dolmuş, irrespective of numbers, with the entrance fee extra. They should include the subsidiary sites of the Karakuş tumulus, Cendere bridge and the ancient Commagene capital of Arsameia.
Don’t be bludgeoned into booking a tour before you check various options – indeed, assuming you arrive in time to catch the last dolmuş (6pm), it’s far better to head straight up to the lovely village of Karadut. All the accommodation options here arrange summit tours – a taxi to the summit costs around TL35, a minibus around TL50 (regardless of numbers, entrance extra); tours including the subsidiary sites TL100. Sunrise tours see the subsidiary sites on the return, sunrise tours en route.
Tours from Malatya, on the north side of the range, may look more expensive, but if you count in the night’s stay virtually at the summit, the difference is negligible. The main disadvantage is that you miss out on Nemrut’s subsidiary sites, but on the other hand you view both sets of heads at sunrise and sunset, and you get to stay at the welcoming stone-built Guneş Hotel (t 0422 323 9378), which has clean and cheerful en-suite rooms and good food. A Kurdish yayla (summer tent encampment) lies a few minutes’ walk away.
Bookings are best made the day before, either at the tourist office or the tea garden to one side. Departures are usually at noon, reaching the summit in good time for sunset; the return trip starts at about 7am, allowing time to admire the sunrise, and reaching Malatya at about 11am. The TL100 fee per person includes transport, lodging and two meals, and trips run even if there’s only one taker; the entrance fee is extra. If it suits your onward travel plans, after viewing the sanctuary at sunrise you could walk over to the south side of Nemrut and join one of the groups seeing the subsidiary sites on the way back to Kahta.
Visiting Nemrut from Şanlıurfa has the advantage of cutting out Adıyaman and Kahta, and can include a trip to see the Atatürk Dam, but the 420km (14hr) round trip takes in lots of uninteresting scenery.