Talking heads

Published: April 25th 2018
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We set up camp in a 'hotel' near Mount Nemrut. Hotel in quotes as it's actually a bit of a dive, but hey, thems the knocks when you wanna see something amazing. It's freezing and I'm given a 'heater' for my room. It works, but there are alarming sparks from the back when the switch is turned on and off. The handle to the bathroom comes off in my hand, there's no light bulb in the main ceiling light and at some point the door has had a fist through it and has been patched up. Room 101 is scrawled on the door in felt tip pen. The communal room where we are to eat has a door at each end that may as well not be there, a blast of cold coming in every time the hotel workers come in and out - every other minute.

Fortunately we don't have to stay at Faulty Towers very long. Burak has been watching the weather to see the best time to attempt our climb up the mountain. Sadly it's looking pretty dire but he decides we should just go for it. We are taken in our minibus to the visitor centre and then transfer to a shuttle bus that takes us to the start of the climb up to the summit of Mount Nemrut. It's already feeling pretty cold as we start up the steep climb. I adopt my usual steady but constant plodding and it seems to be going ok, even in my rubbish pac-a-mac coat (I didn't want to take full waterproofs as I've only got hand luggage for this trip). The rain has started spitting in large drops which then turn to hail, yes HAIL! I'm holding onto my flimsy hood that's blowing all over the place as the biting cold wind tries to rip it from my hands.

I keep up my steady pace and don't stop. I want to get to the top and potential shelter asap. When I do arrive at the top I find there are two sides of the mountain that have the large statues and I'm on the East Terrace. Here there's the remains of the bases of the structures/plinths and many stone heads of people, birds and animals rowed up in front. Burak produces a bottle of red wine and some glasses for us to celebrate, with the wind blowing strongly it's amazing some wine even makes it into the glasses. We do have a little shelter from the wind here though so we at least get to look at the statues without frostbite setting in. I attempt to go around the side of the mountain to get to the West Terrace. I meet a bank of snow with some 'steps' cut into it and slip and slide my way down to see even more incredible statues. There are loads more of the stone-carved heads that would originally have been on top of the base plinths towards the back of the West Terrace.

Archaeologists and historians have dated the building of these monumental statues to the reign of Antiochus I around the 1st century BC. It seems this guy was a bit of an egotistical, self-absorbed megolamaniac. The huge blocks of stone used to carve the statues were dragged into position by, have you guessed? Slaves! in order to build a tomb for matey boy Antiochus. His favourite Greek and Armenian Gods were carved into the stone blocks and include Apollo, Tyche, Zeus and Hercules. As well as these Gods there's a couple of eagles and lions. The heads of the statues alone are on average larger than the size of a human being and when complete would've stood about 9m high.

I stay as long as I can but it's just so cold and windy at the top of the mountain and I feel the need to get down into the warm of the visitor centre really quickly. When I do get to the place where the shuttle buses pick up I find out that both buses have just gone down the mountain. Come on guys, a bit of forward planning would be really appreciated by these freezing cold hikers. Eventually one trundles back up the hill and we get taken back down to relative normality. What an amazing UNESCO site.

I forgot to mention that prior to our arrival at Mount Nemrut we'd been taken to see the Septimius Severus bridge, the second largest complete Roman bridge you can see anywhere in the world. It's incredible with it's columns and wide span of 34m. I march over it Roman fashion blowing an imaginary buccina to mark the changing of the guards. Until very recently the bridge was still being used by heavy traffic! Now a new bridge has been made and only pedestrians are allowed to cross the ancient Roman version.

And in true backwards fashion, prior to this we went to have a look at the Karakus Tumulus, a memorial grave of the Commagene Royal family from the 1st century BC. The top of this mini mountain was added to by, you guessed it, slaves, and its extra height was used to house a tomb. There's an eagle guarding the tumulus on top of a column on one side of the mound and what's left of a lion on the other.

This feels like that episode Red Dwarf where they find bruises on their faces and don't remember how they got them only to find themselves reversing in time towards a bar fight that undoes the bruises as they spew out their beer INTO their empty glasses.

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