Giant heads with high flat caps stare out of a hard dry landscape of grey and red stone. Today we visited the mountaintop burial ground of Antiochus I, King of Commagene. Little is known about the man except that he had great expectations for his kingdom, perhaps even a new syncretic religion. He didn't last long and the place is recorded in the history books as merely a minor Hellenistic kingdom. Nevertheless the site of Nemrut Dagi is preposterous. Here he built a 150 meter tumuli at the peak and set two sets of huge gods to guard it from the east and the west.
Sadly, earthquakes have shaken the mighty heads off. The effect created by Archaeologists is odd with the heads neatly righted and laid out in front of massive seated headless bodies. The effect is almost comical. The relationship of body parts is not the only strange circumstance. The gods themselves are mixtures of Roman and Persian deities. Here the Zoroastrian god, Ahuramazda is combined with Jupiter. Tyche has taken the form of the local fertility goddess. Apollo and Helios are joined with the Persian god, Mithras and Hercules takes the form of Ares and Artagenes. In their midst, wearing a tall cap like the other gods is Antiochus himself, god sized. On either sides are the fallen heads of guardian eagles and lions.
One can be certain that the message communicated today is not that intended by Antiochus. In fact, Shelleys famous poem about the ruined and lonely statue of Ozymandias comes to mind. One of my traveling companions recited the poem which ends with the famous words, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."
We left the statues behind and zigzagged our way down steep inclines covered with rocks. Holes the size of skeleton eyes were worn into them giving the impression of countless skulls scattered down the mountain by some dreadful ancient battle. Toward the bottom, the rock formations morphed into armies of liken covered mitered Byzantine bishops marshaled against the perpetrators of the slaughter. Yet amidst the tall stone forms, thistles burst with blue flowers, yarrow the color of mustard clung to the rocks and even pink hollyhocks occasionally grew on the edge of crevices.
At last we reached the valley floor as twilight further fed the imagination with crisp shadows and golden light. We returned to Adiyamen for the night.
~ post by Patrick Hotle