Sphinx gate at archaeological site of Hattusa

The remote archaeological site of Hattusa (Hattuşa) was once the busy and impressive capital of the Hittite Empire, with 15,000 inhabitants living inside its city walls which cover more than 6 km in length.

Historical Background of Hattusa

On the Memory of the World List, the ancient capital of the Hittites keeps company with famous cities such as Venice and Toledo, Damascus and Jerusalem, Rome and Carthage, Lübeck and Versailles, and Teotihuacan and Macchu Picchu. (J. Seeber Hattusha Guide. A Day in the Hittite Capital, Ege Yayınları, Istanbul, Turkey, 2002).

Before 1905 little was known about the Hittites, once the rulers of a vast empire in the Middle East who conquered Babylon and, at the peak of their power, challenged the Egyptians and Assyrians, more than 3000 years ago, for control over the land of Israel. Although the Bible prominently makes over 40 references to the great Hittite Empire and its importance is noted in Egyptian chronicles, no archaeological evidence had ever been found that it really did exist. In 1834, Charles Texier stumbled on the ruins of the Hittite capital of Hattusa (also written as HattuşaHattusas or Hattusha) near the village of Boğazköy (present Boğazkale). In 1905 excavations started and uncovered the long lost capital of the Hittite Empire, together with a pile of stone tablets that completely documented its history.

The Hittites, who spoke an Indo-European language, swept into Anatolia around 2000 BC where they conquered the Hatti. From the Hatti, they borrowed their culture and name. They made Hattusa, the Hatti capital, theirs and enlarged and beautified it. At the end of the second millennium BC, the Hittite empire disappeared under still unclear circumstances, leaving behind it the remains of a powerful and intellectually brilliant civilization. The destruction of the Hittite empire was so complete that only the tiniest pieces of a large mosaic remained, erasing their centuries-long rule over Asia Minor from the memory of man.

Sights and Photos of Hattusa

The Hattuşa National Park is not only a place of great archaeological and historical value but its surroundings are of great natural beauty, offering breathtaking views.

Hattusa Lower City

The Lower City of Hattusa is dominated by a large artificial platform upon which the Great Temple (Temple I), or Büyük Mabed once stood. The Great Temple is the largest building in Hattusa. The temple complex measures 65 x 42 m and dates back to the 14th-13thcentury BC. The temple complex covers an area of approximately 14,500 m2 and is thought to have been dedicated to the Weather God of Hatti and the Sun Goddess of Arinna. Large monolithic doorsills mark the position of the doorways between the storage rooms of the Great Temple. On the ground floor only, there were 82 rooms surrounding the temple. Since most of these storage facilities were two or three-storied, it is estimated that there was a total of about 200 storerooms. During the excavations of the store-rooms, hundreds of huge pottery vessels were found. Inside the great temple, there is also a block of green nephrite-type stone, carefully carved, thought to have had a religious meaning. Some people claim it originates from Egypt, others that it is a meteorite. However, according to Seeber, this type of stone is not uncommon in the geology of the region. The Lion Basin was originally 5.5 m long and carved from a single block of limestone. Unfortunately, Byzantine or Roman stonemasons have cut the block into pieces and hauled some of them away.

The Lion Gate was one of the two grand entrances in the southern curve of the city wall of Hattusha. The gate is named after the two sculptured lions that were cut out of the exterior of the huge blocks lining the passageway. Lions were popular figures of protection throughout the Near East. Two rectangular towers flanked the entranceway between the exterior and interior portals. Both portals were fitted with pairs of heavy wooden doors.

Hattusa Upper City

Hattusa was hailed in ancient sources as the City of a Thousand Gods. A multitude of gods required a multitude of temples in their honour. Therefore, it is no surprise that much of the remains at the vast area of Hattusha are places of worship. Nearly all the foundations, at least 28, found at the upper city are temples.

At about 1 km from the Great Temple are the remains of Hattusa's fortified upper city. The Lion Gate or Aslanlı Kapı was one of the two grand entrances in the southern curve of the city wall of Hattusa. The gate is named after the two sculptured lions that were cut out of the exterior of the huge blocks lining the passageway. The two lions symbolically guard Hattuşa against attackers and evil spirits. Two rectangular towers flanked the entranceway between the exterior and interior portals. Both portals were fitted with pairs of heavy wooden doors. The Aslanlıkapı marks the beginning of the remains of a dry-stone city wall.

Yer Kapı, or Earth Gate, popularly known as Sphinx Gate or Sfenksli Kapı, was named after the two great sphinxes that once guarded it. Unfortunately, these were removed and are now on display in museums in Istanbul and Berlin. The most striking feature at Yerkapı, is the presence of a 70 m long tunnel or postern that runs beneath the city's walls. The postern was built using the corbel arch technique, i.e. a series of flat stones that lean towards each other and as such form a triangle. Since the tunnel's exit is clearly visible from the outside and is flanked by two sets of monumental steps, it is thought to have a religious, ceremonial purpose. The rampart of Yerkapı forms the highest and southernmost point in the city's fortifications. However, as demonstrated by the steps on the outside, the paved rampart was primarily an architectural monument, a manifestation of the city's might. The rampart itself was crowned with the mighty city walls. The highest elevation of the terrain at Yerkapı offers an excellent lookout over the upper city of Hattuşa.

East from Yerkapı, lies Kral Kapı or King's Gate, another gateway that studded the mighty city walls. This gate was named after the relief of a regal-looking warrior carved on the left-hand pillar, representing a Hittite warrior god, probably Sharumma, the son of the weather god Teshub and the sun-goddess Hepat. The relief has been replaced by a plaster copy and the original is kept in Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Nişantaş or Nişantepe, meaning marked rock, is a rocky outcrop with an 11-line inscription of 8.5 m long, in Luvian hieroglyphics carved into its eastern face. The hieroglyphs are badly weathered and only part of the inscription has been deciphered, suggesting it is a memorial to Suppiluliuma II, the last known king of the Hittites.

Next to the southern citadel of Hattusa lies Chamber 2 or the Hieroglyphic Chamber. When first discovered, it was thought to be a royal tomb. Now, it is considered to represent a symbolic entrance to the underworld. The chamber was decorated with reliefs, that survived in an excellent condition thanks to the blanket of earth that protected them over the millennia. The back wall is decorated with the relief of a Hittite sun god, while one of the sidewalls is inscribed with Luvian hieroglyphics. Luvian hieroglyphs are a picture script developed in Anatolia and completely unrelated to the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

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The rock sanctuary of Yazılıkaya, meaning Inscribed Rock, is located at about 1.5 km to the northeast of the Great Temple of Hattusa's Lower City. As a natural sanctuary consisting of two chambers in the rock, Yazılıkaya had been a Hittite place of worship for a very long time. In later Hittite times (13th century BC), a temple structure and monumental gateway were put in front of the two chambers. The sanctuary apparently represents the House of the New Year's Celebration, a house of the Weather God Teshub where festivities were held to honour the Hittite pantheon of gods at the coming of the New Year in the beginning of spring.

The largest of the two chambers, Chamber A, is about 30 m long and has its side walls decorated with, unfortunately badly weathered, reliefs showing the pantheon of Hurrian (Hittite) gods. On the left side, there are the male deities and on the right the female. At the end of the chamber, there is a climactic scene which portrays the meeting between the male Weather God Teshub and the Sun Goddess Hebat. On the wall opposite to this climactic scene is a well-preserved relief showing the Great King Tudhaliya IV paying his respect to the deities.

The second chamber, Chamber B, is about 18 m long. The reliefs in this chamber are much better preserved because it was partly filled with earth until the mid of the 19th century. It is thought that this chamber was erected by Shupiluliuma II as a memorial to his father the Great King Tudhaliya IV. On the wall right of the entrance to this chamber, there is a carving depicting a procession of 12 gods of the underworld, while on the opposite wall there are two reliefs. One relief shows the Hittite god Sharrumma striding forward with the Great King Tudhaliya IV under his arm. Another relief on this wall depicts the Hittite Sword God Nergal with the handle of the sword replaced by lion heads.

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At about 36 km from Hattusa-Boğazkale, Alacahöyük is another important Hittite site worth visiting. A höyüktell[Arabic] or tepi[Persian]) is an artificial mound or hill created by human habitation. The hill at Alacahöyük was first described by the British diplomat and traveller W.J. Hamilton in his book Researches in Asia Minor, Pontus, and Armenia (1842). The first systematic excavations at the mound were started in 1935. Alacahöyük was an important centre as far back as the Chalcolithic Age (4000-3000 BC), that is from the 4th millennium on. From the Old Bronze age (3000-2000 BC) date the 13 Royal Tombs, which constitute the most important findings at Alacahöyük. The dead were buried in a fetal position facing south and were richly adorned with gold fibulae, diadems, etc. The Hittite era too, witnessed glorious times in Alacahöyük. The remains, the most impressive of which are the sphinxes guarding the gate, belong to the Hittite Empire period (1450-1180 BC). Either side of the gate is decorated with reliefs (the originals are kept in Ankara) depicting religious ceremonies. Many of the finds of Alacahöyük can be seen in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.

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Travel Information & Travel Tips

The best base for visiting Hattusa is Boğazkale, a small farmer village at approximately 200 km from Ankara. In the village, Hotel Aşıkoğlu provides simple but clean sleeping facilities and has a good restaurant. The friendly manager is also of great help in organizing your visit to Hattusa and provides a pick-up service from Sungurlu bus station.

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