Last updated 10 June 2021
Watching the sun rise over Mount Nemrut, one of the highest peaks of the Eastern Taurus mountain range in southeast Turkey, is a remarkable experience.
Mount Nemrut is home to a cluster of ancient ruins on the mountaintop, 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 donkeys carrying baggage.
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 at this part of the work 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.
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 modern Turkey, in the middle of nowhere, 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.
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.
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.