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But it wasn’t until the 1950s, when the American School of Oriental Research took responsibility for the site, that it was determined that Nemrut Dagi had been part of the independent Kommagene kingdom. Its capital city of Arsameia was found close by. The Americans (with German expertise) also came to believe that the tombs of Antiochus and others lie within the 2,150-metre-high tumulus (though no-one knows for certain).
Motoring towards Nemrut Dagi National Park, we visited another tumulus, Karakus, built by another Kommagene king, Mithridates II. We walked over the humpback Cendere Bridge (albeit the work of 2 nd -century Romans), and gawked up at the ruins of a 13 th century fortress constructed on the site of a Kommagene castle.
At the ancient city of Arsameia, we climbed up to a glorious stone relief of Mithridates I (Antiochus’s father) shaking hands with Hercules. From the hilltop ruins we could look right over the vast Mesopotamian plain — a taste of what was to come.
Then on Mount Nemrut, we pulled into the Hotel Euphrat — budget accommodation that Lonely Planet rightly praises for its “stupendous views of the valleys.”
In a basic room (no hot water, but no-one cared), one of the inevitably male housekeeping staff had deftly turned down the orange-and-brown blankets to expose subtly embroidered cotton sheets. And the Euphrat served good food — grilled kebabs, of course, an interesting stew, and a plentiful breakfast of fresh garden produce, olives, home-made yogurt, and heaps of Turkish flat bread (to be drizzled with wild honey).
We’d need all the sustenance we could get because our mid-afternoon climb from the parking lot on Mount Nemrut to the site of the statues — a mere 600 metres, but on often steep and sometimes crumbling stone steps — was no walk in the park.
At the top of the path, and the base of the tumulus, the trail opens onto the Eastern Terrace. Here you find massive stone “bodies” from which the heads, roughly two metres high, have fallen to the ground. Neatly placed, left to right, they depict King Antiochus I, the goddess Fortuna, Zeus (oversize, given his importance), Apollo and Hercules. Despite the afternoon shadow and dim light — or perhaps because if it — they were stunning.