The Awe Of Mt. Nemrut
The heads sit severed on peak of the mountain. An eagle, a lion, a king. Their noses are scraped away, their decapitated bodies loom above them, perched on thrones.
An artificial hump of mountain top emerges behind the headless forms. As the sun rises, the sharp light illuminates the golden mound– rumor is the mountain top covers the tomb of an ancient king.
This is Mount Nemrut, the ancient wonder, the gem of Southeastern Turkey.
It is what drew me to the region in the first place. A stumbled-upon image, a half-remembered New Yorker article, and a craving for wild sights unseen catapulted Nemrut to the top of my Turkey travel list, but the site is snowy and inaccessible much of the year, so I waited. And waited. And schemed.
The ascent to Nemrut is part shuttle, part hike. Before dawn, at the heavy-lidded hour of 3am, we hopped into a small bus that would take us nearly to the top. Any hope of snoozing on the bus was quickly squashed– the roads turned with sickening sharpness, and the frigid mountain air blew through the driver’s rolled-down window. I stumbled out of the bus, painfully aware that I hadn’t eaten anything. And then we climbed.
The heads were enshrouded in shadow at the top, and we waited for the inky sky to fade into color.
Icy fingers, bitter wind, the crowd elbowing for tripod space—unpleasant, except for the wild anticipation rippling through the group. I huddled on the side of a rock away from the wind, and waited for the gold.
And then it came, a rush of slanted light, golden waves over the mountain. The sunrise.
The heads glowed. The eagle, the lion, the king. Suddenly the majesty of the desecrated statues was revealed—the sunrise hits at JUST the right angle. The landscape below the mountain rippled with light.
Technically, the mountain was full of the sounds of other travelers… but I was overcome with a sense of heavy silence, a deep reverence in the air.
With every passing minute, the light swelled with more and more fiery hues. One man started doing athletic yoga next to the monuments, two girls took selfies with the mountain as backdrop, cameras clicked and a bit of warmth returned to my fingers.
I curved down the mountain, past the monuments that light up at sunset. Very little is known about these disembodied heads– some are Persian gods, some are based in other mythologies– but their splendor is immediately apparent.
On the drive down the mountain, we made two other stops with little explanation– a bridge, a column, rolling fields of arid dead grass. My woozy hunger and exhaustion was catching up with me, but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy the land sprawling out around me, even if I wasn’t completely sure what I was looking at.
The ascent to Nemrut and its splendid dawn was worth the trip the Southeast alone. It’s unlike anything else in Turkey: Mt Nemrut is, simply put, full of awe.