KARAKUS & ARSEMIA

En route to the utterly unique and must-see spot that is Mount Nemrut, three sights demand a close look, two of them closely connected with the Commagene dynasty (third century BCE through first century CE) that constructed the giant temple and tomb atop Nemrut.  Karakuş Tümülüs, built in 36 BCE, is a burial monument for the Commagene royal women.  A handful of columns ring the mound, with an eagle atop one column, a lion atop another, and a third column has an inscribed slab explaining that the burial mound holds female relatives of King Mithridates II (38-20 BCE).

Some ten kilometers past the Karakuş Tümülüs, a magnificent humpback Roman bridge built in the second century CE spans the Cendere River.  The surviving Latin inscriptions on stelae state that the bridge was built in honor of Emperor Septimius Severus.  Of the four original Corinthian columns (two at either end), three are still standing.  The Cendere Bridge, at 34.2 meters, is the second largest arched bridge ever constructed by the Romans, and it remains in impressive shape despite being nearly two millennia old.

Eski Kale harbors the ancient Commagene capital of Arsameia.  Atop the hill stands a large stele depicting Mithras (or Apollo), the sun god.  Further along are the bases of two stelae, one depicting Mithridates I Callinicus, another Antiochus I holding a scepter.  Behind the stelae, a cave entrance leads to an underground chamber built for Mithras-worshipping rites.  Further uphill stands a stone relief portraying Mithridates I shaking hands with the ancient hero, Heracles.  An adjacent cave temple descends 158 meters through the rock; the steps into the temple are dangerous, so take care!  The long Greek inscription above the cave describes the founding of Arsameia; the water trough beside it may have been used for religious ablutions.  The ruined foundations of Mithridates' capital are at the very top of the hill.

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