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Rising 2150 meters from the Anti-Taurus mountains in south central Turkey stands the archaeological site of Nemrut Dagi (pronounced NEHM-root dah-uh).
Thought to be the burial tumulus and Hierotheseion ('Holy Seat) of the 1st century BC Commagene king, Antiochus I Epiphanes, the site is as awe inspiring as it is enigmatic.
The unique mountain top shrine was unknown to all but local herders until its discovery in1881 by a geologist in the employ of the Ottoman government. Archaeological excavations in 1953 by the American School of Oriental Research have conducted precise surveys of the site and instituted a preservation program but have provided little insight into the either the methods of construction or ancient use of the strange rock hill and its temples.
History records that the kingdom of Commagene was situated on the border of the Seleucid Empire (which followed the empire of Alexander the Great in Anatolia) and the Parthian Empire.
In 80 BC, with the Seleucid Empire weakening, the governor of Commagene declared his kingdom's independence. Soon thereafter, a Roman ally named Mithridates I Callinicus proclaimed himself king, set up his capital at Arsameia, and began the short-lived Commagene dynasty. Mithridates died in 64 BC and was succeeded by his son Antiochus I Epiphanes who ruled for 26 years. Commagene was thereafter ruled from Rome or by puppet kings until 72 AD when it was fully incorporated in the Roman Empire.
During the reign of Antiochus, the naturally occurring mountain top of Nemrut Dagi was extensively contoured, capped with a soaring conical peak, and graced with two temple compounds and many beautiful stone sculptures.
The conical tumulus rises 50 meters above the temples, is 150 meters in diameter and is composed of countless thousand fist-sized pieces of white limestone. Archaeologists, assuming the tumulus enshrines the burial remains of Antiochus, have tunneled into the great cone of rocks but found nothing to substantiate their assumptions. The purpose of this massive undertaking remains a mystery.