A cluster of ancient ruins lies on the summit of Mount Nemrut, stained red every morning by the rising sun.
Far below, the Euphrates River stretches out in the distance, the light bathing the fields yellow. Closer, there are winding paths up the mountain, the occasional donkey carrying baggage.
Watching the sun rise over one of the highest peaks in southeast Turkey, is a remarkable experience.
Visiting Mount Nemrut, you can feel the age and history of the ancient lands around you. It’s a reminder of all the ancient civilizations that met in this part of the world, and the different peoples who have lived here over the millennia.
Perched on the top of the mountain is the supposed tomb of the late Hellenistic king, Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 BCE), built by him as a monument to himself.
The site was designed to be approached from the east or the west, with the statues intended to be viewed at either sunrise or sunset. Five giant limestone statues, identified as ancient Greek and Persian gods, sit on the mountain, with guardian animal statues on each side.
Building this tomb in such a remote spot seems a monumental feat. It’s a powerful place with the huge statues bathed in light as the sun rises. Perhaps significantly, the tomb itself has not yet been found.
As we wanted to see the sunrise, we went on a tour up the mountain, which involved leaving our hotel in Kahta at 3am. There had been a cold snap a few days before, and it was extremely cold in the middle of the night, with frigid winds battering the mountain.
There were only six of us in our tour group. We sat in a little tearoom near the carpark, sipping chai and wrapped in blankets, waiting for other people to join us. Then eventually, we left, huddled against the cold, in a little procession making its way up to the summit.
It was bitterly cold at the summit, and we found ourselves crouching by a stone wall to avoid the biting wind. Slowly, the blackness eased and we could see the outlines of the huge stones in front of us. Then, very slowly, the light turned golden and flowed over the statues, bringing their details to life and giving us a hint of warmth.
The statues were remarkable in that golden light and we found ourselves truly appreciating the vision behind their placement over two millennia ago. We marvelled at the detail and the size. Eventually, I looked behind me and realised I was watching the sun rise over the lands of ancient Mesopotamia and I felt awed by seeing the Euphrates River from this vantage point.
Yes. And for many reasons.
The views are beautiful. It’s not often that you can stand on a mountain top surrounded by ruins, overlooking ancient Mesopotamia.
The ruins are astounding. The full size of the statues would have been staggering. Even now, with the heads torn off, they are huge.
The summit feels like one of those places that shouldn’t exist, but somehow does. In the middle of nowhere, seeming very far away from modern Turkey, it gives you a glimpse of a civilization from the distant past.
In short, visiting Mount Nemrut is like becoming part of legend, if only for a few minutes.
If you decide to make the trek all the way to Central Turkey to see Mount Nemrut, you need to see it at sunrise or sunset (or both, if you have the time).
As mentioned above, the statues were built to catch both the rising and the setting sun. For the sunrise you take the eastern path, for sunset the western route. Both times are stunning, although the statues are arguably slightly more impressive on the eastern side.
Saying that, there is something especially magical about experiencing Mount Nemrut during sunrise. You’ll arrive at the mountain in the dark, and make your way up to the summit in relative blackness. As the sun rises, the ruins are slowly revealed and then infused with a warm light. It’s an enchanting way to see your surroundings for the first time.
Kahta in the Adıyaman Province of Turkey is the closest town to Mount Nemrut. The easiest way to get to Kahta is either by hiring a car and driving yourself or on a tour (most leave from Cappadocia). There is also an airport in Adıyaman if you want to fly (and hire a car from there) or you can get a bus from other major cities in Turkey.
If you’re planning on visiting Mount Nemrut at sunrise, we recommend taking a tour, as you’ll need to leave in the early hours of the morning to be at the summit in time for the sunrise. It's about an hour's drive from Kahta to the summit and road signs can be harder to spot in the dark. Tours leave to Nemrut from Kahta every day.
If you want to visit at sunset, driving yourself is a good option. Entry to the site is 25 lira per person and is free for children under eight.
You can also do a longer tour which includes more sites in south-eastern Turkey.
If you're visiting Nemrut, you'll probably find yourself arriving in Kahta. The city makes a good base for exploring Nemrut National Park and it's worth staying there for a couple of nights to see the both the ruins on the summit and the other sites in the area.
If you have your own transport, you may prefer to stay closer to the mountain, in the tiny village of Karadut. There's less infrastructure, but lovely views.
Stay at the Nemrut Kommagene Hotel in Kahta
If you have a car, stay at the Nemrut Dağı Işik Pansi̇on in the village of Karadut, near the mountain.
As well as visiting the summit of Mount Nemrut, there are a number of sites in the national park which are well worth visiting while you're there. If you have your own car, combining these three makes a good half-day road trip.
A burial site from the 3rd century BCE and the summer residence of the Commagene rulers. You can see the remains of steps and buildings, as well as mosaics from the 2nd Century BCE.
The highlights are the large stele reliefs showing the god Mithras-Helios, the Commagene King Mithridates and his son Antiochus I, and Mithridates shaking hands with the hero Hercules. More of the finds are displayed at the museum in Gaziantep.
Easily well of my favourites, this well-preserved Roman bridge was built between 198-200 CE and dedicated to the Roman Emperer Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and their sons Caracalla and Geta. According to an inscription, four Commagene towns paid for building the bridge.
The ancient bridge crosses the Cendere River (the ancient Chabinas River) as it emerges from a gorge in the wide Kahta Valley.
If you're interested in Mithridates and the Commagene kingdom, take the time to visit the Karakus, a Commagene tumulus (burial site). It was erected by Mithridates II in the 1st Century BCE in memorial for his mother Isias, sister Laodice, and niece Aka.
There were originally three pairs of columns on this spot, however only four of the columns still survive. The southernmost column is crowned with an eagle (pictured), while northeast column has a bull sculpture on its top.
From Nemrut, we made our way further south, visiting the holy city of Urfa. Seeing Urfa was a definite highlight of our trip. The pond of holy fish was beautiful, the mosques were impressive and I valued having the opportunity to wander through this old, solemn, beautiful city.
From there we visited the village of Harran with its beehive style huts. It was so quiet and peaceful, it was hard to believe we were only 20km from the Syrian border. And, on the way back to Goreme, we stopped at Gaziantep, home to the wonderful Zeugma Mosaic Museum, filled with treasures from the ancient world, including some of the findings from Mount Nemrut National Park.
Last Updated 9 October 2023