Mt. Nemrut, known as Mt. Nimrod in English, rises 7,052 feet above the Anatolian plain, a ruddy outcrop of rock and stunted trees that has become one of Turkey's most iconic historical sites. At the top of the ocher-pink, cone-shape mountain is a stupendous spectacle: temples, each one a collection of remarkable-looking statues, stand on two terraces—one facing the rising sun, the other the setting sun—with a man-made pyramid of small rocks, the Tumulus of Antiochus, between them. The man responsible for this fantastic project, King Antiochus I, is buried somewhere underneath—though they've tried, archaeologists have yet to find him: all attempts at excavation have caused cave-ins. From 64 BC to 32 BC, Antiochus was king of Commagene, a tiny Roman puppet state founded by his father, Mithridates the Great (it lasted until its annexation to Rome in AD 72). The kings of Commagene grandly claimed descent from Alexander the Great, so young Antiochus reasoned that if Alexander
was a god, he must be one, too. He set a veritable army of slaves to work building a suitable monument to himself. Enthroned on the two terraces are massive statues of gods, Antiochus seated among them as an equal.
Originally 26–30 feet high, the statues have been decapitated over the centuries by the forces of erosion and earthquakes; in 1926 a thunderstorm brought the last one—Tyche, goddess of fortune—crashing down. Their gigantic heads were set upright by archaeologists in the 1950s on the ground around the tumulus; you can see how they combine the Greek harmony of features with Asian-looking headgear and hairstyles. On the east terrace, left to right, they are: Apollo, Tyche/Fortuna, Zeus (at center, with his pointed cap and bushy whiskers), Antiochus, and Heracles. The west terrace is a mirror image of the east, with the addition of some fine relief carvings portraying Antiochus shaking hands with Apollo, Zeus, and Heracles, all with smiles and dignity. Most of the inscriptions that are carved all over the site describe the Commagenes and their religious practices; the message on the throne of Antiochus reads, "I, Antiochus, caused this monument to be erected in commemoration of my own glory and of that of the gods." Follow the path that runs behind the statues to view the particularly fine inscriptions on the backs of the figures. Given the severe temperatures and strong winds at the summit, and the overall isolation of the site, one wonders why Antiochus didn't choose a more inviting location—a question best discussed over a steaming cup of tea at the small visitor center. Bring your own food and water for the excursion up the mountain.