Thursday, July 29, 2021

Heraclea: Heroon City in the Sky

 Photos by Jack A. Waldron 

The sign pictured above points the way along a dirt path that climbs up into the clouds, where a spectacular complex of heroons and temples awaits . . . , this is my heaven.  Pictured below, one of many small waterfalls that can be found along the Inonu (University) Pass, which is the mountain pass that winds its way south from Malatya to Sincik (location of the Heroon Sanctuay), and to Mount Nemrut beyond.

I refer to this pass as the Inonu University mountain pass, because it begins at the eastern edge of the Inonu University campus in Malatya (see red marker on the map below).  As you can see on the map below, Mount Nemrut is located quite close to Malatya, and there are several mountain passes that lead to the site.  I call them 'passes', because they all take you high up into the mountain range, and at times, these paved/dirt roads can be washed out, certainly snowed out, and pose grave dangers if you were to become stranded.
Other routes and passes through the mountains to Mount Nemrut (pictured on the map above) are, the Tokluka Route (located 1 km east of the Inonu (University) Pass, which is the red marker pictured above, and which I used the first time I visited Mount Nemrut, and which I call a route, because it is paved road, but still subject to dangers), the Yesilyurt pass (that begins from Malatya proper, and which meets the Guzelkoy Pass), and finally, the Guzekoy Pass (located in the lower left of the map above, and surprisingly, which has an old road sign still pointing the way from the main highway (pictured below). 
As you can see, the sign is quite old, damaged, and obviously there are new highways that can speed tourists around the mountains to Mount Nemrut, but that said, these mountains are well worth getting into.  The mountains you see in the distance are merely foothills, and the path you see behind the sign is as good as it gets, for the next 122 km!!  
On the map below, 'H' marks the location of the Heroon Sanctuary.  As I said, these mountains are exceptional beautiful, especially when you get your first glimpse of Mount Nemrut from a great distance.
As you travel further south toward Mount Nemrut, the massive gray point of the tumulus can be seen in the far distance atop a green mountain base.
As you can see in the photo below, the Nemrut Tumulus of Antiochus dominates the scene, even though tiny in the far distance, it points to the realm of the gods above.  Though I have already written about my first visit to Mount Nemrut, I will write a Part 2 on the site in the near future.
But, before we get to far ahead of ourselves, let's investigate this most magical Sanctuary Of Heroes that lay in the shadow of Mount Nemrut.
As you approach the site, you will find the remains of unknown structures that are just mounds of unearthed treasures waiting to be excavated (pictured below).  We will investigate this area at the end of this post.  The house seen in the distant left of the photo below is the central location of the sanctuary.  In the center distance of the photo you can see one of the smaller heroons that sits along a row of heroons.
Also called Derik Castle, a title that offers little meaning to me, as the term 'castle' in Turkey is often given to ancient structures and sites that are often anything but a 'castle', and which is a term tinged with medieval knights and warlords . . . , no, this is a Heroon, and to be more poignantly deified, this is a Sanctuary Of Heroons to some special heroes of ancient times.
1. Heroon: A special building built in memory of the heroes in ancient times.
2. Heroon: In Greek and Roman architectures, a sacred area, burial monument or temple to the deified or demigodized heroes.
As we get closer to what I will call the Sacred Field, as there appear to be numerous heroon structures that have been erected around a large square field about the size of a football pitch.  In the photos above and below, just behind me is a large structure (explored further down) that certain looks like an heroon, and which is facing the field before us, with the opposing row of heroons seen in the distance.
Of the information I have been able to find, the range of dating the site, and to which culture can claim construction, vary.  Somewhere between the 1C BCE and the 3C AD, this site appears to have been built, and further, the cultural adherence could fall on one or two, as it has been given to either the Commagene Kingdom and/or the Roman Empire following its inheritance of the Commagene Kingdom.
The sacred area nestled between two mountains is flat, and appears to be surrounded by a temenos, or, wall that encloses an area considered sacred.  As the area has not yet been excavated, it is not clear if there is one wall surrounding a greater area comprising numerous structures, and/or several walled areas within a greater wall?
What is certain is that there are several heroons or burial monument tombs that are laid out on somewhat of a square grid plan.  From being able to see various standing structures, the visibly collapsed with obvious building members, and the various large mounds with building fragments on the surface, I estimate the size of the complex to be about 200-300 meters in length, and 100-200 meters wide.
The surrounding area is known as the village of Yukari Kaskun, which is located on the Yel Degirmeni Hill in the Fatih district and near the town of Sincik.  It is thought that the Romans occupied the site at least around 70 AD, and there is what appears to be a Roman temple, that will be explored further down, but also, the heroons probably date from an earlier period under Commagene rule.  The location of the sanctuary puts it in the northeast corner of the ancient Commagene Kingdom.
Pictured above, a side view of what I will refer to as Heroon I.  Notice the massive buttresses supporting the structure against the slope.  So, what was the purpose of this Heroon Sanctuary?  Before looking more closely at the buildings themselves, let's consider some possible reasons for the existence of the sanctuary, if it truly was simply a sacred field dedicated to heroes?
Ok, perhaps it was a sanctuary dedicated to heroes of the Commagene Kingdom, but why here?  There should be a special reason for this place being chosen for such a purpose.  Pictured above and below, the front of Heroon I, which appears to not only have been buttressed to support it against the slope and upper terrace, but this was a multi-storied structure, with at least two levels, and maybe three or four.
This remote mountain site of the ancient Commagene Kingdom reminds me a lot of Bassae site on Mount Kotylion in Western Peloponnese, where the Temple of Apollo Epikourios can be found (see photos below from 2008).
It is thought that this magnificent temple and sanctuary to Apollo (pictured above and below) were constructed in this remote location because "Apollo the Helper" had delivered the local Phigalians from plague, or war, or both (pictured below, the temple under a massive tent during restoration).  Could there have been a similar reason for the construction of Heraclea/Derik Castle/Sanctuary of Heroes?
As the location of the site is along the northern border of the Commagene Kingdom, is it possible that a great battle had been fought nearby as the Commagenes defended their lands from northern invaders?  Further, that the heroes from that battle/battles were enshrined at the Sanctuary of Heroes?
Pictured above and below, the largest standing structure at the site referred to here as Heroon I, which has a single large barrel vaulted roof with massive buttresses of support on its front corners and side walls, that appear to have served as support for the roof, upper floor/s, as well as resistance to the upper terrace that Heroon I was built under, or into.  Above Heroon I, on said terrace, a large Roman temple was constructed, and now lays in a heap, which we will investigate further down.
Pictured above, Heroon I has a somewhat unique 'Key Lock' shaped entrance built of large impressive stone blocks, with massive stone buttresses built into the corners and sides of this .  In my humble opinion, the building style and use of such blocks bears a relationship to either early Roman, Hellenistic, and/or most probably the Commagene period architectural traditions, say, somewhere between the 4C BCE to the 1C BCE.
Inside the vault, we can see from the charred ceiling that this room has seen heavy use over the millennia, most likely as a home and/or place of refuge.
Though I refer to this room as Heroon I, it is possible that it served another purpose, such as a guard room, administrative office, etc., but we will not have a better idea until excavations have taken place.
There is what appears to be a small window in the wall to allow light into the space, and the door does invite an ample amount of light as well.  As I wrote the above, I began to consider the doors angle to the sun, such as the rising, and the winter and summer solstice, as this may have some bearing on the use of the space.
Pictured below, the corner structure with the barrel vaulted room we just investigated at the left of the photo, while to the right is another structure I will refer to as Heroon II (but, which could actually be a defensive tower?), and further to the right out of the photo sits Heroon III, of which there is now doubt of this being a tomb of some sort.  Do notice the massive inward tapered stone buttresses that help keep the barrel vaulted roof aloft, as well as the upper floor/s from sliding down the slope or collapsing.
Now having walked up onto the corner structure in the photo below, I am facing toward the rear side of the upper front wall of the barrel vaulted room space, with the roof of the structure below my feet in front of me.
Now turning away from the corner structure, I have Heroon II (tower?) in my sight an the center of the photo, and we'll make our way there.  Not pictured in the photo, up the slope to the left sits the massive heap of a collapsed Roman temple, which we will explore later.  And, not pictured in the photo to the right, across the large flat square sits Heroon IV, which will also be explored further down.
Pictured below, the front of Heroon II with its inner chamber exposed.  I get quite excited at the thought of this site being excavated and somewhat explained.  Surly, being a hop, skip and a jump from Nemrut, Arsemeia, Cendere Bridge and the Karakus Tumulus, this must be a key site on the radar of the archeologists.
Below, a view of the back of Heroon II, with the corner barrel vaulted room structure in the far distance, right of photo.
Moving on to Heroon III (pictured below, shot from behind Heroon II), we can see that the arched roof of this tomb is still intact.
A small entrance door at the back of the tomb gives access to the chamber, perhaps to have had extended family members interned, store tributes and gifts, etc.
Like the other tombs, large stone blocks have been used that seem to follow a similar type of construction style or pattern that matches the the other heroons, including the massive barrel vaulted corner structure/room.
Pictured below, intricate facade decoration with some practical application is incorporated into the stone blocks.
At first, I was somewhat puzzled by various stone blocks that can be found scattered around the site, because they appeared to be only half finished, until I realized how those blocks were purposed.
Pictured above, the front of Heroon III with its arched roof barely intact, but enough of the structure preserved to get a good idea of its form.
For approximately 2000 years, the last block of keystone has kept the arch of this structure standing (the thinner block of keystone can be seen in the middle of the photo above).
Pictured below, again looking back toward the large barrel vaulted corner room (far distance), Heroon III in the foreground, and Heroon II standing between them.
Interestingly, a wall extends out from Heroon III (pictured above and below), and furthermore, all three heroons a positioned along a straight line that separates the upper slope/terrace from the lower flatter large square space.  It is possible that these structures were constructed along a terrace wall support/defensive wall, the upper terrace being defended from the lower.
Now heading up the terrace behind Heroon I (pictured below), we are not far away from what appears to be a Roman temple of later construction than those we have investigated so far.
Pictured below, a full view of the back of the upper level of the barrel vaulted corner room of Heroon I, and as you can see, we are moving up the slope.
Spinning around to face up the slope in the opposite direction, we can see a mound, which is actually a heap of the remains of the Roman temple.
As we approach, the sculpted building members and fluted column drums begin to reveal themselves (pictured below).
The drums of the columns lay in straight lines, having collapsed over the millennia, and allowed to lay undisturbed.
My guess is that the remains of this temple are nearly complete, meaning, these structural members have not been quarried for use in other structures, either in ancient or more modern times. 
Locals who live on the land of the site or surrounding it have told investigating officials that their families have guarded the remains over many centuries.
I was not able to see any inscriptions that might identify the temple, but I can say that I am very excited at the prospect of future excavations, identification of the structure, and its eventual restoration.
The fluted drums pictured above, like most of the members of the temple, lay in the manner of a cleanly broken puzzle just begging the puzzler to reconnect the pieces.
Pictured above, a block of the temple frieze with its triglyph separated on either side by metopes sits exposed next to the temple heap.
The image on the half buried block pictured above jumped out at me.  It resembles two people standing side-by-side, like you might see on a funerary stele, but why would it be located here at the temple?  Perhaps a temple builder took to chisel during a lunch break to honor his mother and father on hidden section of temple block?
Column drums, frieze members, pediments, base, inscriptions, hidden chambers, all waiting to be resurrected in the middle of these heavenly mountain fields, and, this surely must have been the reason to have erected this temple in this place, a home of the gods.
Alas!  I finally found an inscription, but unfortunately, it only helped to identify the reason this site needs to be excavated and protected as soon as possible, not discounting the wonderful job the locals have done over the centuries.
Leaving the Roman temple, we head back to the large flat square space on which Heroons I, II, and III are located on, and aim for another large structure on the other side of the square that I will refer to as Heroon IV (pictured above).
Along the way across the large square space, I found the curious weathered block pictured above.  Is it another of those building members that is half structural, and half decorative?  Or, is this the mid-drift of a sculpted statue?
As we approach Heroon IV, we can see that it is quite large, and when compared to the other heroons, shows more girth.  Pictured below, looking back across the large flat square at Heroons I, II, and III.
Pictured below, a weathered ornamental building member, that I suspect belongs to Heroon IV.
Heroon IV is actually a much larger, the blocks are cut in a more defined/finer style, they are also a bit larger and the building appears to incorporate columns in antis, with a porch and steps that lead up to this temple-like tomb (pictured below).
Pictured below, one one the bases for the columns in antis.  In the distance across the large flat square, you can see Heroons II and III.
The block pictured below has its alignment groves on full display.  Fitting and locking into these groves would be an upper section or block belonging to the entablature. 
Though it was confusing at the time I took these photos below, it is very well possible that we are looking at more than one structure.  Obviously, we can see the base of a structure in the foreground, and another set of squarely laid blocks popping up on the other side of a space that sits between them.  Whether this is one structure, or two, I cannot be sure.
Based on its size, and the elaborately sculpted building members, such as the one pictured below, I think it is fare to say that Heroon IV is much more substantial than I previously thought.
This building reminds me on a Sonny Boy Williamson tune called 'Little Village', because it's too small to be temple, and too large to be a tomb.
Clearly, there appears to be a stylobate, or some sort of porch (pictured above and below), surrounding the walls of this structure. 
Though the portion along the sides of the building are extremely narrow (pictured above and below), which may indicate that this architectural style is based on a Roman temple in antis, and may actually be such.
In the picture below, you can see the bright yellowish stone below the dark grey weathered blocks above, which is probably due to the stone being exposed in recent times, meaning, the treasure hunters are hard at work seeking their fortune, or perhaps jail time.
Leaving Heroon IV, we head over to the main road that runs along side the site, and to heap of buried structural members that I will refer to as Heroon V, and possibly Heroon VI (pictured below).
Yes, this heap is much too large, too busy and too manufactured, to be just a pile of inconsequential stone blocks and boulders.  It certainly caught my untrained eye, and required a much closer investigation.
It is interesting that most of the blocks laying on the surface lack any fine detail, but we must consider the extreme weather conditions that these high mountains produce, as well as the millennia that these blocks have been exposed.
Finally, I was able to find a section of entablature that belonged to a very large structure, again, this was not a small building, and may have been yet another temple (pictured above and below).
The block pictured below appears to me to be an extremely weathered and mangled sculpted member of a building, probably the one underneath the heap upon which it sits.
Certainly proof that a substantial structure remains to be excavated, the square blocks pictured below offer some glimpse into what we may discover in the future.
To repeat the location of these buildings, they are quite a distance from what is believed to be the center of the sanctuary, and may be found next to the main dirt road that runs past the site.
Back at the center of the sanctuary, one last look, and our goodbyes to the family that occupy the site.
As my camera does not have a panoramic exposure/view, I took the following three photos with plans to link then together using Photoshop, but unfortunately, I forgot, so it will have to wait.
However, you can link the two photos above with the one below, and I think you will get the picture!
I would love to cycle the high mountain road from Inonu University to the Heroon City In The Sky: Heraclea someday, and would highly recommend this route to all cyclists, but, be prepared for sudden weather changes!
After leaving Heraclea, we headed down out of the mountains toward Adiyaman, where the pass exits at the site of the Roman bridge known as Cendere: Septimius Severus Bridge, which sits in the valley below Arsemeia and the Nemrut Tumulus.

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

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  1. very beautiful pictures and genius content, the content is long but I enjoy reading it, I love this and I will be waiting for your next post on Cycles soon. Thanks again

  2. Super cool. Keep up the good work!


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