Türkiye: Travel back in time

A visit to the historic sites in the Mount Nemrut region

by Edel Cassidy
Words Edel Cassidy

The country we’ve always known as Turkey has been officially renamed Türkiye (pronounced turkey-YAY), with the approval of the United Nations. It had called itself Türkiye since its independence in 1923, but it’s only recently, following a request from its government, that it has been recognised internationally by that name.

When news broke in February that massive earthquakes had struck the south-east of the country, I was devastated to hear of the enormous loss of life and destruction in cities that I had visited just weeks earlier. I was also concerned about the impact this would have on the livelihoods of many there who are dependent on tourism. However, I have been assured that much of Türkiye is safe and remains open, and visitors continue to be welcomed with warmth and appreciation. 

The highlight of my trip was a visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Mount Nemrut and the surrounding region, which has a wealth of archaeological sites, ancient cities and historic structures that tell the stories of earlier civilisations and traditions.

Harput Castle flying the Türkiye flag with grass and trees in the foreground
Harput Castle was built on a steep slope by the Urartians in the 8th century BC. Image courtesy of Türkiye Tourism.
Leaning minaret of Harput Ulu Mosque surrounded by trees
Leaning minaret of Harput Ulu Mosque.

Harput Castle

Located 5 km outside Elazığ in the Eastern Anatolia region of Türkiye, a two-hour flight from Istanbul, Harput is a must-visit location for those interested in the history of the region. The site has long been thought to date back to 1000 BC, although a unique stone slab carved in relief was discovered in the area in 2016, suggesting that the region’s history begins 1,000 years earlier than originally believed. There was no damage at this site as a result of the earthquakes in February.

Harput Castle was built on a steep slope by the Urartians in the 8th century BC, and through the ages it has served many civilisations, including Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuks and Ottoman. Here, archaeologists have uncovered a 17th-century Ottoman Quarter, as well as water cisterns, dungeons and hidden tunnels. One of these tunnels connects the castle to the Church of the Virgin Mary, a Christian church built in AD 179 that’s still open for worship.

Harput Ulu Mosque (1156–1157), one of the oldest mosques in Anatolia, has walls made of rubble stone and dome arches and a minaret built of brick. It is famed for its leaning minaret, which tilts at a seven-degree angle, a greater incline than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

The historic city of Harput has been on the UNESCO Tentative List since 2018.

Replica statues at Arslantepe Mound
Replicas of a 12th-century BC statue of the Hittite king Tarhunza at the site entrance to Arslantepe Mound. Image courtesy of Türkiye Tourism.
Tourists walking past a huge column at the entrance to Cendere Bridge
Crossing the Cendere Bridge, which was built by order of the Roman Emperor in the 2nd century. Image courtesy of Türkiye Tourism.

Mount Nemrut National Park

Adıyaman city was my final stop and is about a two-hour bus or train journey from Malatya. Although this was an ideal base for exploring Mount Nemrut National Park at the time of my visit, the city was hit hard by the earthquakes, resulting in an enormous loss of life. 

To experience the true magic of Mount Nemrut, it’s best to plan a visit at sunrise or sunset. Some important sites that I explored on the road from Adıyaman include the ancient city of Perrhe, one of the great cities of the Kingdom of Commagene (163 BC–AD 72), an ancient Greco-Iranian kingdom founded north of Syria and the Euphrates after the fallen empire of Alexander the Great. The kingdom lasted for only 200 years and was later incorporated into the Roman Empire. A climbing pathway leads to over 200 ancient tombs carved into the rocks.

The beautifully preserved Cendere Bridge, spanning the Cendere River, was built by order of the Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus in the 2nd century AD and is a magnificent example of ancient Roman architecture.

Stone statues of Greek and Iranian gods on Mount Nemrut
Heads of the statues of Greek and Iranian gods and an eagle on Mount Nemrut. Image courtesy of Türkiye Tourism.

Mount Nemrut, listed with UNESCO since 1987, is truly awe-inspiring. From the visitor centre, it’s a thirty-minute uphill walk to the 2,134-metre-high summit. Excavations have failed to reveal the tomb of Antiochus I, but it is believed to be the burial site of the king who reigned over the Commagene Kingdom. On the mountaintop, a tomb sanctuary is flanked by huge statues eight to nine metres tall, including representations of the monarch, two lions, two eagles, and various Greek and Iranian deities. It seems that at some point the statues were vandalised, and the heads were removed and left scattered where we see them lie today.

Despite the powerful earthquakes that struck this region, Mount Nemrut and the other sites that I visited en route managed to survive.

On behalf of everyone at Anthology, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to the people of this region, especially to the families of those who lost their lives.     

Aerial view of Mount Nemrut showing ancient archeological stone figures
An aerial view of the archaeological site of Mount Nemrut
  • ‘Türkiye: Travel back in time’ is published in Anthology Volume 19. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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