Picture yourself in the scorching heat of a Turkish summer morning, with the sun beating down on you and the dry, dusty air in your lungs. You’re on a journey to Adiyaman with your travel companion, Fırat, and the adventure has just begun.
As you traverse the roads, you notice that they’re being rebuilt, with many dangerous sections causing you to feel a tinge of fear as you pass through them. But it’s also a sign of progress, indicating that the Turkish economy is thriving and developing (at least in 2011). You make light of the situation with Fırat, joking that the Turkish roads are always “under construction.”
Passing through the countryside, the majestic sight of the mountains greets you. They’re so close that it feels like you could reach out and touch them, and you can’t help but be moved by their presence and beauty. The mountains are grey and towering, with a saffron-coloured landscape dotted with hints of green. And then, like a ribbon, a blue river snakes its way silently between them, completing the breathtaking vista.
You stop the car to take photos and soak at the moment. You feel powerful amid this natural beauty, lost in a land untouched by time. The trance music that fills the car adds to the sense of adventure, and you find yourself longing to stay in these lands forever.
The heat is oppressive, and you need something refreshing. So, you stop at a gas station to grab a cold drink. There, you notice a young man lazily sitting on a red chair with his eyes closed, hands behind his head, and a dreamy expression. He’s dressed in black pants, a blue shirt, flip-flops, and his bike leans against the wall nearby. You can’t help but wonder what he’s dreaming of, and you quietly take a photo of the scene.
As you continue your journey, you finally arrive at the sign marking the entrance to Adiyaman. It’s a traditional photo opportunity, and you snap a picture to commemorate the moment. The adventure is just beginning, and you can’t wait to see what else the Turkish countryside has in store for you.
Adiyaman is Turkey’s vibrant and growing city, where adventure and history abound. With over 200,000, Adiyaman is the province’s capital of the same name and home to a rich cultural and historical heritage. Its name, which translates to “place which name is difficult,” is a testament to its complicated past. The city was initially called Hisn-ı Mansur or Mansur Castle, but in 1926, the name was changed to Adıyaman. The city’s diverse population includes Kurds, Arabs, and Turks, creating a melting pot of cultures and traditions.
Arriving at the University, our hosts greeted us with warm hospitality. Dr Bayram, a highly respected sociologist who had earned his doctorate from the University of Oxford, welcomed us with sweets and çay, a Turkish tradition (eat sweet to speak sweet). His strong personality was immediately apparent. He evaluated us with a half-mocking demeanour, perhaps wondering what a woman in jeans, a t-shirt, boots, and sunglasses accompanied by a young Turkish man wanted there.
As we began to talk about Adıyaman, Dr Bayram shared with us the city’s primary source of wealth: agriculture. With its proximity to the Euphrates River and the Turkish government’s irrigation projects, Adıyaman has the potential to become an agricultural powerhouse. However, Dr Bayram also noted that the city has a reputation for being extremely conservative due to its high population of illiterate individuals, many of whom come from the countryside. Nevertheless, he assured us that the new generation is working to change this profile.
After our conversation, Dr Bayram invited us to lunch, where we were treated to a feast of the city’s best cuisine. The aroma was tantalising, and I tried to eat everything offered but fell below their expectations. Nevertheless, the meal was an excellent opportunity to experience the city’s culture and hospitality.
As we left the restaurant, we visited the ruins near Adiyaman. On the way, we stumbled upon a Roman fountain still in use, with a woman washing wool yarn while children played around her, creating a river and dam with their imaginations. We stopped to speak with the woman and the children, briefly examining their daily lives.
The ruins belonged to the ancient city of Perre, the capital of the Commagenos dynasty, serving as a seasonal capital in winter. The town was incredibly famous for centuries and even had a representative at the Council of Nicaea. We visited a small part of the site, focusing specifically on the tombs carved into the rock. Fırat was intrigued by the different formations, and he and Dr Bayram had a fascinating conversation about ancient civilisations and their burial rites.
We then returned to the university to retrieve our car, with Dr Bayram joining us for a visit to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, also known as the Church Mor Petrus et Mor Paulus. The church serves the few Syriacs living in Adiyaman and is subordinate to the Orthodox Church, part of the Syriac Patriarchate in the region.
The patriarch greeted us, but his attention was focused on Fırat and Dr Bayram, seemingly ignoring me. This was not a surprise, given the patriarch’s position within the Christian religion and the traditionally inferior status of women. He was preoccupied with tasks and interviews, so he appointed one of the church fathers to show us the location and talk to us.
The priest, whose name was not given, led us to the church, where he explained that the Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian churches with roots in Antioch. They even used the Aramaic language, although the service was in Turkish. The priest explained that Aramaic was the language of God, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they knew this. When I asked him, he responded, “Have you seen God speaking in Spanish or English?” I couldn’t keep my thoughts to myself. “Well, if people pray, they are praying in their language. Why God needs a language if he is omniscient? Just read our minds!”
The church was breathtaking, dating back to the 19th century, but in the exact location where the first church was built. It served as a temple for about 200 families in the region.
Our exploration began as we set out to photograph the church. The images of Christ and Mary inside the church excited Fırat, and he was eager to learn more. As we left, we took a photo with the priest, Dr Bayram, who emphasised the importance of different religions coexisting.
Returning to the city centre, Dr Bayram pointed out different styles of dress Turkish women wore, from modern and Western clothing in Istanbul to traditional black burqas in border cities near Iraq and Iran. Dr Bayram noted that burqas were not widely appreciated in Turkey, preferring instead modest clothing with long coats and colourful hijabs. However, we noticed more black burqas in the East due to the influence of Arab culture and rural populations. We realised that education and exposure to modernity were crucial in shaping different views on dress and culture. We left Dr Bayram at the University and continued to explore that fantastic place.
Our journey led us to the most beautiful and exciting place I had seen on this trip – Nemrut. The road was narrow and winding, and Fırat drove the car at a breakneck pace, both thrilling and frightening. I learned to embrace the adrenaline rush, even though I sometimes cried with fear. We arrived at Nemrut early, but Fırat promised we would return in time to see the sunset, so we decided to explore another location.
We followed another narrow, winding road on the mountainside, with Fırat driving at an alarming speed, leaving me on edge. The car, a Fiat Linea, glided over the slippery gravel road, and we narrowly avoided colliding with other vehicles that approached from the opposite direction. The landscape was breathtaking, but my fear and sickness kept me from enjoying it thoroughly. However, every twist and turn led to a stunning new view that amazed me.
We eventually arrived at the ancient city of Arsemia, the summer capital of the Comagenes, founded by King Antiochus I Theos Epiphanes Dikaios Philoromaios Philhellen of Commagene in honour of his father King Mithridates I Callinicos. We discovered a relief depicting King Antiochus shaking hands with the hero Hercules, dating back to 50 BC, and an inscription detailing religious and political practices during the reign of Commagene. King Antiochus I’s father, Mithridates, was buried in Arsemia, adding to the historical significance of this incredible location.
As we approached the inscription, I felt a shiver down my spine. Below it lay a tunnel, 158 meters deep, waiting to be explored. My adventurous spirit yearned to venture inside despite the darkness and the unknown. The ancients believed the tunnel had healing powers, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to discover more. Armed with my camera, I captured as much as possible, feeling regretful for the ruins that lacked reference.
As we headed back to the car, we grabbed some refreshing beverages. Fırat urged me to purchase souvenirs to support the locals, and I obliged, choosing a baby set of stones that resembled the statues we would later encounter.
Then we went to a Roman bridge, the Septimus Severus Bridge or Cendere Köprüsü, which spanned the river and showcased the beauty of ancient engineering. It was built in honour of the Roman Emperor Lucius Septimus Severus, his second wife Julia Domna, and their sons Lucius Septimus Bassianus Caracalla and Publius Septimus Antoninus Gueta. However, when Caracalla killed Gueta, he ordered all references to his brother to be destroyed, including one of the bridge columns. Family drama truly transcends time.
But our journey didn’t end there. We continued to Nemrut Mountain, the highest peak in southeast Turkey, and discovered a royal tomb buried on the mountaintop from the 1st century BC. Alongside the grave were statues representing Greek gods, Armenians, and Iranians, including Atiochious, two lions, two eagles, Hercules-Vahagn, Zeus-Aramazd, Tyche, and Apollo Mithras. The statues were positioned according to the alignment of Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars on July 7, 62 BC.
As the sun began to set, we sat on the mountain’s west side and waited for the spectacle to begin. People worldwide were scattered around, waiting for the same event that occurs every day but never seems to be fully appreciated. I felt a wave of peace wash over me, and I could not resist the urge to breathe deeply and take in all the natural energy surrounding me.
As the sun disappeared over the horizon, it was time to head back. Accompanied by two Turkish and the other Kurdish women, we chatted and exchanged stories on the way back to our hotel. As I drifted to sleep that night, I dreamed of kings, tombs, and sunsets, feeling more alive and adventurous than ever.