Nemrut

The stone faces of gods ensconced on magnificent thrones atop an imposing mountain greet visitors to this newly discovered region with its yacht races, concerts and ruins.

Kâhta is a small township in Turkey's southeastern province of Adıyaman, situated at the northwestern tip of the blue Euphrates, which has nourished countless civilizations over the centuries. Its main claim to fame are the statues of the gods on Mount Nemrut. But this historic township hidden away in the steep valleys of the Anti Taurus is one of the rare corners of Anatolia with its cultural riches and natural setting. Recently, for example, the area hosted yacht races. The South and Southeast Regional Optimist Races, organized this year for the second time by the Yacht Federation of Turkey, took place at Kâhta on 6-9 September. Held on the Ataturk Dam Reservoir with participating yachtsmen from nearby Adıyaman, Bitlis, Şanlıurfa and Van, the races were followed closely by the locals as well.

NEW CASTLE FOR AN OLD VILLAGE
Located 10 kilometers from Nemrut National Park, Kâhta and its environs are a virtual open air museum. The minute you leave Kâhta behind and enter the confines of the National Park, you immediately fall under the spell of a once-magnificent civilization. Towering castles and  valleys decked with pink oleander seem to point to a divine existence. In the province of Adıyaman you will find a new ruin or historic remains at every step, and there are still archaeological sites where no excavations have yet been carried out. At the same time however the number of registered monuments, previously numbering 167, has risen to 177 with the addition of the recent discoveries. Abdullah Güven, Adıyaman Province Director of Culture and Tourism, says that the new necropolises and floor mosaics found at the ruins of Perre, one of the largest cities of the Commagene civilization, yield important clues to the history of the region. The Karakuş Tumulus, one of the most fascinating areas in the region, was formed some 2,100 years ago and is the first splendid monument of the Commagene kingdom, the smallest yet most peace-loving of its day. The road that continues northeast from the 35-meter-high tumulus with its ancient columns, statues and reliefs winds down into a river bed. The arched stone bridge over the Cendere River, a source of refreshment amidst the arid hills, is perhaps the only original Roman bridge in usable condition in all Anatolia. Turning eastward from the Cendere and climbing up into the parched hills, the road emerges 5 kilometers later into a valley bursting with oleander. The New Castle, which looms over the Kâhta River like the shadow of history, is the original site of Old Kâhta, one of the area's oldest places of settlement. Here, where the earliest traces of settlement go back to antiquity, why this magnificent castle is referred to as 'new' remains a mystery. A major administrative district (kaymakamlık) until the 1930's, Kâhta was rebuilt on level ground, leaving Old Kâhta an isolated village of 30-40 households. The edge of the precipice on the south bank of the Kâhta River was the sacred precinct of the Commagene dynasty, known as Arsameia. Covered with  pine trees, Arsameia can be reached after you pay the fee to enter the National Park. Based on the seashells and fossils found in the area, which was home to the palaces of the Commagenes in the 2nd century B.C., it has been suggested that it was once an inland sea. The road, which turns steeper after Arsameia, winds on through fields where the pervasive scent of burning stubble stings the nostrils.

ANATOLIAN PYRAMID
Everything seems to turn more yellow at every kilometer on the road to Nemrut: the houses, the rocks, even the birds. Conditions on this road, which is windy and intimidating even in the hot summer months, are even more difficult in the winter snows. The peak is another 500-meter climb from the highest point accessible by vehicle- a surreal landscape dominated by colossal statues of men and eagle-headed gods whose heads have tumbled to the ground.

The monumental tomb of the Commagene King Antiochus has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and continues to sleep as it has for centuries like a mysterious treasure chest above the clouds. The religious and administrative ceremonial precinct of the Commagene Kingdom, Mount Nemrut offers visitors an opportunity to view the Commagene Valley and the Ataturk Dam Reservoir in the   distance from 2,150 meters high up in the Taurus. The mad Commagene king Antiochus had a 200,000-cubic-meter block of stone carved by hand on the top of the mountain and a magnificent monumental tomb erected for himself here. The statues, each one weighing 6 tons, carved from the stone blocks brought up here from the valley are 10 meters tall. A conical tumulus of loose stone some 50 meters high and 150 meters in diameter covers further tombs. Although tunnels were dug through it in various periods including the Roman, it has so far proved impossible to reach the royal graves. The tomb of Antiochus, thought to have been as rich as the famous Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, is a world legacy that has managed to remain in situ in the heart of Anatolia thanks, perhaps, to the king's own intelligence. 

SEA OF WAVES
Mountains surround Mount Nemrut on all four sides like the waves of a raging sea. On one  side the stone eyes of the Commagene gods, on the other an endless sea of waves. If you climb up Nemrut you can't fail to be impressed by King Antiochus for choosing this as the location of his tomb! The Commagene state, which ruled for approximately 250 years in the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C., was on the western bank of the Euphrates and included today's provinces of Adıyaman, Gaziantep and Kahramanmaraş. Antiochus, under whom it enjoyed a golden age, faced a difficult choice during his reign. The Romans on its western borders and the Persians in the east harried the Commagenes with endless wars. Antiochus had only one alternative if he wanted to keep his state intact: assuming the role of mediator between the two empires. Caught smack dab in the middle of a thousand-year east-west tug-of-war, Antiochus launched a cultural reform and managed to stay out of the fray through a network of cultural relations and strategic marriages. The land of this fascinating king continues to attract interest around the world even today. Some 95,000 tourists visited Nemrut last year and this year the number exceeded 100,000 already in the first eight months. The interesting part is that by far the most tourists to the area come from the Far East. Drawing tourists from faraway countries like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, Nemrut continues to attract visitors from western countries like Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Spain and the U.S. as well. Staying overnight in one of the nearby facilities and watching the sunrise on the Mountain of the Gods has become a Nemrut institution. This year, as every year for the last 2000, the 2116th anniversary of the coronation of King Antiochus was celebrated on 14th July. Held at sunset, the commemorative ceremonies for the king are occasionally enhanced by performances of live music. And Antiochus's splendid tomb will continue to be blessed by the sun's red glow as it rises and sets for as long as the earth endures.