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.