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Giant seated statues of Nemrut Mountain (IzzetNoyan/ Adobe Stock)

Mount Nemrut Magnificent Monument To Megalomania

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In 1881, a German engineer by the name of Karl Sester was surveying transport routes through what was then the Ottoman Empire. Some local people who lived in the area and worked for him shared some interesting news which he subsequently reported. Although they could not identify the specific ancient routes he was looking for, they told him about some monumental statues that lay in ruins on Mount Nemrut or Nemrut Dag. Motivated more by his own curiosity than professional goals, he hired a Kurdish man named Bâko to show him the site.

Representation of what the Nemrut pantheon looked like before the heads fell off. ( CiddiBiri/ Adobe Stock)

Representation of what the Nemrut pantheon looked like before the heads fell off. ( CiddiBiri/ Adobe Stock)

His reports were met with such interest that the very next year the German Archaeological Institute formed a scientific expedition to investigate. Otto Puchstein was working in Egypt at the time but was instructed to meet with Sester to do some preliminary work. What he found was so intriguing that he returned with archaeologist Osman Hamdi and sculptor Osgan Effendi. Much of what is known today about the history of this important site is due to the work of these adventurers. Sester and Puchstein discovered a long inscription written in Greek, which told the story about why the monuments had been erected. By 1883 it was published in a book written in French called Le Tumulus de Nemroud Dagh. Although no serious archaeological work had yet been done on site, the story caught on, and the public at large began to hear about the hierothesion, an ancient Greek word meaning ‘holy seat’, on Mount Nemrut.

Friedrich Karl Dörner. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Friedrich Karl Dörner. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Enter Theresa Goell and Friedrich Dörner

Once the story became known, history seemed to intervene. It was not until after the Second World War that Friedrich Karl Dörner could get about the business of revealing the secrets of the mountain, which involved the search for a hidden burial chamber and various historical facts that revealed the politics behind this extraordinary era. Although Dörner is usually credited with putting together the details of the site, it is really because of the work of Theresa Goell, sometimes called the ‘Queen of the Mountain’, that one gains insight into what transpired in this important region of the world. Her biography tells the story of how a 40-year-old divorcee was able, at tremendous personal cost, to break into the male-dominated world of archaeology, especially in the Middle East.


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This is the seventh of a series of eight articles written by Jim Willis which will detail aspects of the history of various ancient sites in Turkey and Anatolia.  In September, 2020, Ancient Origins Tours is partnering with award-winning tour operator Travel the Unknown to provide its readers with comprehensive escorted tours throughout the mysteries of the region, visiting classic destinations as well as more obscure locations where the magic of the past remains as strong today as it did thousands of years ago. Your hosts are Jim Willis, author of  Hidden History: Ancient Aliens and the Suppressed Origins of Civilization, and Micki Pistorius, Premium Editor.

Top Image: Giant seated statues of Nemrut Mountain (IzzetNoyan/ Adobe Stock)

By Jim Willis

jim willis's picture


After graduating from the Eastman School of Music, Jim Willis became a high school band and orchestra teacher during the week, a symphony trombonist on the weekends, a jazz musician at night and a choral conductor on Sunday mornings. ... Read More

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