Nemrut Dagi

In a desolate region of Turkey ancient ruins stand guard over the landscape. Nemrut Dagi; damaged, falling into disrepair, yet somehow able to proudly stand testament to King Antiochus 1 of the Commagene Empire. Antiochus ruled from 62 – 38 BC; his monument another wonder of the ancient world. A place with more questions than answers – the kind of place that makes me smile.

This little known kingdom was formed by Antiochus’s father, Mithridates 1 in 64 BC.  Antiochus took the throne when his father died, setting to work on this puzzling site. An existing mountain was enhanced and shaped using tons of small limestone rocks to form a perfectly coned peak, 150 metres wide and 50 metres tall. Archaeologists believe this is his burial mound – to date no evidence of his tomb has been found. At the base of the mountain massive courts have been sculpted out of natural rock on three sides. Antiochus morphed Greek and Persian gods into monolithic sculptures above the courtyards. A carved wall shows Antiochus shaking hands with these gods; statues of Antiochus were also placed along side deities, without question he believed himself to be one of them.

Astronomy is evident anywhere you look.  A relief carving of a lion known as the “Lion of Commagene” has 19 stars carved in the background, a crescent moon on the lion’s neck, above his back the planets Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter. Stars carved on the lion represent constellation Leo. Using the Skyglobe computer program these symbols have been interpreted as the date July 6 in 61 or 62 BC. A shaft in one side of the mound is illuminated twice a year – once when in line with the constellation Leo, and again when in line with Orion.

I make no apologies for how wonderful I find places like Nemrut Dagi. A Unesco World Heritage  Site added to my bucket list.


In my mind Timbuktu resided on a book shelf, along side Shangri La and El Dorado. I saw it as a place born in the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs, nothing more than a fictional backdrop for characters like Allan Quartermain. Unlike King Solomon‘s Mine Timbuktu lacked biblical reference, escaping Hollywood treatments featuring Charlton Heston. Instead it was relegated to a euphemism for the ends of the earth, it became synonymous with expressions like “when pigs fly” or “when hell freezes over”.

Timbuktu is far from fictional, and finds itself in a rather tough spot. Located in Mali, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is on the endangered list. Timbuktu was the centre of Islamic teaching in Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries. Located on the edge of the Saharan trade routes, it was believed to have housed 100,000 people in the glory days of the Askia dynasty. Of concern to UNESCO are the Sankore, Djingareyber, and Sidi Yahia Mosques. Urban development, climate, and now war threaten to impact these historical treasures beyond repair.

My ponder is not that Timbuktu is tangible, my thoughts are stuck on Islam and what went wrong. Built during the golden age of Islam, Timbuktu epitomizes a society built on science and knowledge. Europe wallowed in the Dark Ages, while Islam flourished. Of course there was , violence, war, and conquest; human nature is unavoidable. The sad fact is; these once great centres of science and innovation have disintegrated into rigid, closed minded societies, engulfed in religious fervor to the exclusion of all else.

The cradle of civilization is imploding, and it appears history has taught us nothing. Timbuktu exists for now, not as it was but as it has become. I liked it better when it was on my book shelf.

                   Timbuktu            © UNESCO