The mausoleum of Antiochus I (69–34 B.C.), who reigned over Commagene, a kingdom founded north of Syria and the Euphrates after the breakup of Alexander’s empire, is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. The syncretism of its pantheon, and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom’s culture.
Crowning one of the highest peaks of the Eastern Taurus mountain range in south-east Turkey, Nemrut Dağ is the Hierotheseion (temple-tomb and house of the gods) built by the late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) as a monument to himself.
With a diameter of 145 m, the 50 m high funerary mound of stone chips is surrounded on three sides by terraces to the east, west and north directions. Two separate antique processional routes radiate from the east and west terraces. Five giant seated limestone statues, identified by their inscriptions as deities, face outwards from the tumulus on the upper level of the east and west terraces. These are flanked by a pair of guardian animal statues – a lion and eagle – at each end. The heads of the statues have fallen off to the lower level, which accommodates two rows of sandstone stelae, mounted on pedestals with an altar in front of each stele. One row carries relief sculptures of Antiochos’ paternal Persian ancestors, the other of his maternal Macedonian ancestors. Inscriptions on the backs of the stelae record the genealogical links. A square altar platform is located at the east side of the east terrace. On the west terrace there is an additional row of stelae representing the particular significance of Nemrut, the handshake scenes (dexiosis) showing Antiochos shaking hands with a deity and the stele with a lion horoscope, believed to be indicating the construction date of the cult area. The north terrace is long, narrow and rectangular in shape, and hosts a series of sandstone pedestals. The stelae lying near the pedestals on the north terrace have no reliefs or inscriptions.
The Hierotheseion of Antiochos I is one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. Its complex design and colossal scale combined to create a project unequalled in the ancient world. A highly developed technology was used to build the colossal statues and orthostats (stelae), the equal of which has not been found anywhere else for this period. The syncretism of its pantheon and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced back through two sets of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of this kingdom’s culture.
Criterion (i): The tomb of Antiochos I of Commagene is a unique artistic achievement. The landscaping of the natural site of Nemrut Dağ is one of the most colossal undertakings of the Hellenistic period (some of the stone blocks used weigh up to nine tons).
Criterion (iii): The tomb or the Hierotheseion of Nemrut Dağ bears unique testimony to the civilization of the kingdom of Commagene. Antiochos I is represented in this monument as a descendant of Darius by his father Mithridates, and a descendant of Alexander by his mother Laodice. This semi-legendary ancestry translates in genealogical terms the ambition of a dynasty that sought to remain independent of the powers of both the East and the West.
Criterion (iv): More so than the tombs at Karakus and Eski Kahta, the tumulus at Nemrut Dağ illustrates, through the liberal syncretism of a very original pantheon, a significant, historical period. The assimilation of Zeus with Oromasdes (the Iranian god Ahuramazda), and Heracles with Artagnes (the Iranian god Verathragna) finds its artistic equivalent in an intimate mixture of Greek, Persian and Anatolian aesthetics in the statuary and the bas-reliefs.
Malatya is one of the biggest cities in the Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey. Malatya is a relatively new city by Turkish standards, although its ancient name, Malidiya, dates back to Hittites, a Bronze Age people of Anatolia. In 1838, during a war between Ottoman Empire and the forces of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, the Ottoman army seized what was then the town of Malatya, forcing the local population to Aspuzu, then a collection of cottages amidst the orchards in the outskirts of the town. After the war, the people decided not to return to their battered town, settling permanently in Aspuzu, and renaming it to Malatya (the abandoned old town, 10 km north of the current city, was later re-populated, and is now called Battalgazi, covered in its separate article). Today, with its population of more than 760,000 inhabitants (2012), Malatya is the largest city of central-eastern Anatolia, where gently rolling steppes of Central Anatolia give way to heavily-rugged terrain of Eastern Anatolia [read more].
Urfa (also Şanlıurfa, formerly Edessa) is a city in Southeastern Anatolia, and the provincial capital of Şanlıurfa Province. The modern city of Urfa is situated about 80 km east of the Euphrates River. It has a rapidly growing population. Urfa has many excellent old buildings and plenty of connections with the Old Testament and Islamic tradition. The general atmosphere and feel of the city is absolutely Middle Eastern, with all those traditional yellow stone, arched architecture, people (ladies and gentlemen alike) in Middle-East dresses, and so on… When coming from West, you’ll certainly feel like you are entering the Eastern world right in this place. People are extremely friendly, and the bazaar is great. In 1984, Urfa was renamed Şanlıurfa (i.e. “Glorious Urfa”), which is how it is shown on maps and highway signs. Şanlıurfa is usually abbreviated to Ş.Urfa on non-official signs, such as those on buses or restaurants. However, colloquially and locally, the city is still almost always referred to Urfa [read more].
Gaziantep is a city in Southeastern Anatolia. Set in the western reaches of the Southeastern Anatolian plateau, Gaziantep is a surprisingly large (with a population of almost 2,000,000) and modern city. Among the locals, the city is informally known by its old name, Antep. The honorific gazi (Turkish for “veteran”), now an official part of the name, was added in 1921 in honour of the fierce resistance of the locals against the French (who ruled the neighbouring Syria between 1920 and 1946) who occupied the city for a number of months in 1921, after the Ottoman Turkey and its allies lost the World War I. G.Antep, which can often be seen on some signs, is a compromise between the shorter, colloquial name, and the longer, official form. The city centre is reasonably compact and walkable. There are plenty of local buses if you prefer and of course taxis for tired feet. Visit the castle, explore the bazaars and don’t forget the museum [read more].