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The eternal inhabitants of Mount Nemrut
2003 / September

Dazed by the wind's roar on the summit of Mount Nemrut, I stood beside King Antiochus and the gods, looking out over Mesopotamia. Bare mountain ranges one behind the other stretched into the distance, interspersed with wooded plains like oases, fields of crops and silver streams. A Zen saying that I had read somewhere came into my mind: 'When I am sitting quietly doing nothing, then comes spring and the grass grows by itself.' For long centuries the gods quietly watched Mesopotamia, seated on their heavenly thrones. Countless seasons came and went, wars were fought and kingdoms rose and fell, but they remained motionless and silent. Finally they could no longer resist the pitiless march of time. Their stone bodies toppled to the ground, and lay in a long sleep during which most were covered by earth. So they lay until they were discovered by a German railway engineer Karl Sester in 1881, and this forgotten civilisation came to light.

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The eternal inhabitants of Mount Nemrut
2003 / September

The kingdom of Commagene ruled over tody'sn provinces of Adiyaman, Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep from 162 BC until 72 AD. Wedged between the Roman Empire to the west and the Persian kingdom to the east, Commagene lay on the shores of the Euphrates. It reached the height of its splendour under King Antiochus I (69-36 BC), son of Mithradates I Kallinikos and his wife Laodice. Antiochus had his likeness and name carved in stone so that history would not forget him. Antiochus was descended on his fathr'sd side from the Persian king Darius, and on his mothr'sd side from Alexander the Great of Macedonia. With the blood of both East and West running in his veins, his ambition was to reconcile the two civilisations, forging a cultural synthesis that would bring them together. He raised himself to divine status and had a tomb carved out of the rock on the summit of Nemrut (2206 metres) in the Ankar Mountains, part of the Anti-Toros range.

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The eternal inhabitants of Mount Nemrut
2003 / September
The tomb where he wanted to rest in peace for eternity was covered by a conical burial mound 50 metres high made of millions of equal sized pieces of limestone. On the terraces to the east and west of this tumulus he erected colossal statues of the gods and himself, all seated upon thrones. The statues are 9-10 metres high, made of stone blocks each weighing 7-8 tons. The gods, seated in the same order on both terraces, look towards the east and west respectively. They each have two names, Greek and Persian. In the centre is the king of the gods, Zeus-Oromasdes, to his left the mother goddess of the realm, Commagene, and the divine king Antiochus, and to his right Apollo-Mithras and Heracles-Artagnes. They are flanked to either side by figures symbolising earthly power: the lion which is king of the animals and the eagle which is messenger of the gods.
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The eternal inhabitants of Mount Nemrut
2003 / September

On the backs of the thrones on both terraces Antiochus carved his testament in Hellenistic style. This 237 line inscription reads, 'As you see I have had these statues that are truly worthy of the gods erected here: the statues of Zeus-Oromasdes, Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes and Heracles-Artagnes-Ares, and Commagene, my homeland which nourishes all things. I also had my own statue set beside the gods who hear prayers and who are carved from the same stone and seated upon the same thrones. So I made the eternal veneration of the great gods contemporary with my own youthful fortune.' Today the stone blocks on both terraces are scattered. Restoration work is now underway by the International Nemrut Foundation under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, and the heads of the statues on the east terrace have already been lifted upright and placed in front of the thrones where they once stood.

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The eternal inhabitants of Mount Nemrut
2003 / September

Restoration is underway of sandstone reliefs depicting the king shaking hands with the gods at the northern end of the row of statues on the west terrace, and of the world's oldest horoscope, in the form of a lion with a crescent around his neck and nineteen stars on his body. Descending from the mountain top sanctuary, we visited another sacred site of Commagene, the Karakus Tumulus built by Antiochus's son Mithradates II. In front of the tumulus is a huge figure of an eagle. We next headed for the Roman period castle of Yeni Kale (198-200 AD), crossing the graceful single-arched Cendere Bridge with pairs of columns at either end. This castle located 26 kilometres from Kahta was built by the Memluks in the 13th century and contains Arabic inscriptions. Our final stop was the monument and sanctuary built by Antiochus' father Mithradates Kallinikos before his death in the city of Arsemia.

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The eternal inhabitants of Mount Nemrut
2003 / September
Antiochus had a large rock inscription carved here. We climbed the path up the south slope below Eski Kahta Castle. Once a sacred road, this path led us first to a colossal statue of the sun god Helios-Mithras, then on past a cave to the sanctuary, where there is a long inscription hewn into a high rock wall beside the entrance to a tunnel. Above the wall can be seen the 3.5 metre high stele depicting Antiochus shaking hands with Heracles. This sanctuary was excavated by Dorner, the same archaeologist who conducted excavations at Nemrut. On the return journey we again caught sight of the distinctive conical mound on Nemrut's summit, impossible to mistake, even against such a mountainous backdrop. It reminded me again of Antiochus, who made his kingdom home to all the gods, uniting them in a pantheon belonging to both East and West.

* By BAHAR KALKAN Photos SERVET DILBER / PRINT PHOTOBANK TURKEY
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