Sunday, September 21, 2014

the giant heads of nemrut

I had first heard of Mount Nemrut when a former colleague of mine returned from a trip to the East with tales of giant heads atop a snow-covered mountain. Something between the curvy-lipped Olmec heads and the stern brows of the Rapa Nui statues crossed my mind, even though the homes of both cultures were on the other side of the world. I eventually looked up Mount Nemrut on the internet to discover that my imagination was way off.

We were lucky to have found a room at the lovely Kervansaray Hotel ( I say lucky because the following day the hotel was full— and the staff were so very nice), and after a snack and a brief nap, we headed up Mount Nemrut to see these heads and watch the sun set. Even though you can drive up most of the way, you still have to climb a steep, heart-pounding staircase towards the top, and goodness, the view is spectacular!

We learned that the site is actually the mausoleum of Antiochus I, ruler of Commagene, a kingdom that was founded after the empire of Alexander the Great dissolved. This mound atop a small mountain is his great monument to himself; massive statues and reliefs place him among Herakles and Ancient Armenian, Greek, and Persian gods. What I found particularly interesting (and amusing), was how he had himself depicted mid-handshake with the gods in the reliefs. Clearly, Antiochus I wanted everyone to know that he was a well-connected guy.

In the background of the above photo, you can see what remains of the bodies. There are five statues, once standing about 6–9 metres each, which represent Antiochus among the deities, flanked by a lion and an eagle. The heads have fallen down and placed upright, their faces cracked from centuries of harsh weather.

The handful of tourists didn't take away from the quiet and sense of peace at the site, even though I occasionally heard a string of adventure-bragging in an American accent coming from a rocky platform at the other end of where I was sketching. The sun slowly slipped behind the hills, and the light went from a warm orange to a cool violet.


Hannibal Lecteur said...

I love the eagle's head popping out from the ground, like a reverse ostrich ! Have you seen the movie "Once upon a time in Anatolia" ? You can get a glimpse of this heads during a thunderstorm :)

szaza said...

Isn't it great? I love the expression of the eagle too. I haven't seen the movie— is it good?

Hannibal Lecteur said...

It's unashamedly hieratic, serious, slow, and dark... In one word fascinating :) Not a popcorn movie at all but I still have some images of it lingering in my mind.