Center of the great Hittite Kingdom for almost 500 years, the ancient site of Hattusas constitutes one of the most important archaeological sites in Turkey. Having imported cuneiform script from Mesopotamia and the Assyrian trade colonies, the Hittites recorded the most minute details of their civilization. Exhaustive archives of public, political, and religious life have been found in several repositories throughout Hattusas, and thanks to the work of a Czech linguist who succeeded in deciphering the Hittite alphabet in 1915, a wealth of information on one of the most important ancient civilizations of Anatolia is now available.
Hattusas was not only the Hittite political capital but the religious one as well. The site is located at the summit of an imposing and rocky terrain high above the fertile valley of the Turkish village of Bogazköy. About 1km ( 3/4 mile) to the northeast (the access road takes a slightly more circuitous route), spectacular for the exceptional reliefs carved into the rock. If you find yourself debating whether to go on or not, here’s my take: Don’t come all this way just to skip the best part.
Hattusas: City of a Thousand Gods
Hattusas: City of a Thousand Gods
In Hittite documents, Hattusas is referred to as the “City of a Thousand Gods” indicating the importance of religion in daily life. In their roles as high priest and priestess, the king and queen would often consult the appropriate god before making decisions on even the most minor of questions. Excavations, begun in 1932 on behalf of the German Archaeological Institute (archaeological surveys began much earlier), have already revealed the remains of over 75 temples.
As equal-opportunity worshippers, the Hittites appropriated foreign deities of the civilizations they had conquered, adding them to the Hittite anthology of gods and offering prayers and gifts to keep them appeased. Each god or goddess became the focus of a cult, so that much of the calendar was taken up with duties associated with ritual ceremonies.
A natural stronghold situated atop an impregnable area of steep rocky terrain, Hattusas had been inhabited as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. The Hatti, an Anatolian people of unknown origin who set up a dominion of independent kingdoms, settled here as early as 2500 B.C. Later, around 1800 B.C., King Anitta of Kushara (an ancient kingdom of undetermined origins and whereabouts) invaded and set fire to the city, pronouncing it accursed, then moved on.The city was accessible through several monumental stone gates carved with reliefs of lions, sphinxes, and gods, which stand now in various states of erosion. Many of these original reliefs and statues have been moved to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
Today there is one main entrance to the site. The first set of ruins is the Büyük Tapinak. Located at the center of the Lower City and surrounded by a wall, this temple was the most important, consecrated to the Storm God and the Sun Goddess of Arinna, who were identified with their Hurrian equivalents, Tesup and Hepatu. The temple was constructed during the reign of the last great Hittite king, Hattusilis III (1275-1250 B.C.). The ruins of the foundations show an ample presence of storerooms, offices, and workshops; this indicates the temple was an important public building in addition to a sacred one. In some of the corners, you can still find the remains of large pottery receptacles. The actual temple is in the center, isolated from the outer sections; only the king and queen, in their roles as high priest and priestess, could enter it.
From the Büyük Tapinak, follow the road up to where it forks. Take the left fork and you will encounter the Büyükkale (Great Fortress). The royal residence occupies the highest point of a naturally rocky crest enclosed by a network of defensive walls. The palace also housed the high guard, with public rooms for the state archives, a large reception hall, and some sacred areas. Not much detail can be discerned from the remaining foundations — invisible from a lower elevation amid the grassy terraces — but a stopover at this point can provide a visual overview of the invincible position of the city.
Farther up the path on the right is Nisantepe, an artificially smoothed rock outcropping that bears an almost 9m-long (30-ft.) inscription. Badly weathered and only partially deciphered, the inscription is most likely an accounting of the deeds of Suppiliumus II, last of the Hattusas kings. Across the road to the left is a path leading to Hieroglyphic Chamber no. 1 [ST] and the Southern Fort, erected several centuries after the collapse of the Hittite Empire. The Hieroglyphic Chamber dates to 1200 B.C. and is built into the side of an artificial dam. (The other end is part of the fortress.) On the back wall is the figure of a man in a long cloak. The figure, probably a god, carries a sign similar to the Egyptian ankh (“life”) and is possibly representative of an entrance into the underworld. On the wall opposite the figure are hieroglyphics. Few remains were found in Hieroglyphic Chamber no. 2, which is visible from the road but was inaccessible as this book went to press.
The best-preserved city gate at Hattusas is the Kralkapi, or King’s Gate, flanked by two towers with both an inner and outer portal. To the left of the inner doorway is a replica of the famous relief of the Hittite God of War, dressed in a short skirt and a horned helmet, and bearing a battle-ax in his right hand. It’s a stunning sight to see the relief in situ, even if the original is in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
On the road up to Yerkapi, over 28 temples have been uncovered. Yerkapi, which means “Earth Gate,” or “Gate in the Ground,” is better known as the Sphinx Gate and is the highest elevation in the area. You can either climb the stone steps to the top of the 15m-high (49-ft.) artificial bank and reenter the city through the tunnel, or take a deep breath and tackle the tunnel first. The 69m (226-ft.) tunnel is an excellent way to grasp the impenetrable appearance of the city to potential invaders. During times of peace, the tunnel provided a quick, easy point of entry to the city. In wartime, the exterior stone embankment, constructed in the shape of a truncated pyramid, probably served to discourage attacks. Once outside the tunnel, follow the path to either the right or the left and climb the outer set of monumental steps to the sphinx at the top. The gate was named for four great sphinxes that guarded the inner gate, two of which were reconstructed from fragments and reinstalled on-site. The two remaining great sphinxes are keeping watch over the Museum of the Ancient Orient (part of Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum) and a museum in Berlin. The four additional bas-relief sphinxes that were carved into the portal of the outer embankment were unfortunately not spared this end; all that remains of the originals is one badly chipped and barely distinguishable image on the western wall.
A recurring theme in Hittite and Mesopotamian architecture is the image of a lion with an open mouth and staring eyes. The Aslanlikapi (Lion’s Gate) displays one of the best-preserved artifacts remaining on-site at Hattusas — the frontal portions of two lions carved directly into stone blocks, which symbolically ward off evil spirits. There’s a hieroglyphic inscription above the head of the one on the left, but unless the sun stands at high noon, the inscription is invisible.
This shrine, formed by two natural ravines, is the largest known Hittite rock sanctuary. The purpose of the shrine remains a mystery, although we can speculate that it was used for annual cult celebrations or even as a royal funerary site. There was probably a processional road leading down from the royal residence at Hattusas, and the presence of a nearby spring may have played a part in the selection of the site as a sacred spot.
In the large rock-enclosed court of Chamber A are some of the most incredible treasures of the Hittite architectural legacy. Hewn from one end of the rock enclosure to the other is a representation of a sacred procession of deities, all of which are of Hurrian origin. Hurrian gods were given prominence by the Hittite Queen Putuhepa, wife of Hattusilis III, who was herself of noble Hurrian or Eastern origin. The cylindrical domed headdress is a symbol of divinity of Mesopotamian influence. The deities are oriented to the main scene on the back wall where the Storm God Tesup and the Sun Goddess Hepatu meet. The Storm God Tesup and Sun Goddess Hepatu, also of Hurrian origin, became the two most important deities in the Hittite pantheon, the accepted counterparts of the Hittite Storm God and the Sun Goddess of Arinna. Towering above the main scene and standing over 3.5m (12 ft.) high is a large relief of King Tudhaliya IV, son of Hattusilis III and Puduhepa. The existence of three depictions of Tudhaliya (there are two others in Chamber B) at the exclusion of all other Hittite kings leads scholars to believe that the sanctuary dates to his reign (1250-1220 B.C.), although the sanctuary’s construction was probably begun by his father.
To the right passing through a narrow rock crevice is Chamber B, probably a memorial chapel to King Tudhaliya IV, son of Hattusilis III and Putuhepa. The reliefs in this chamber were buried until the end of the 19th century, so they are better preserved than the ones in Chamber A. The largest relief is of King Tudhaliya IV, on the main wall next to a puzzling depiction of a large sword formed by two extended lions with a divine human head for a handle. This possibly represents the God of Swords, or Nergal of the underworld. The relief on the right wall depicts a row of 12 gods bearing sickles similar to the ones in the other chamber. The number 12 as a sacred number is first seen here and repeated many times in subsequent civilizations — there were 12 gods of Olympus, 12 apostles, 12 imams of Islamic mysticism, 12 months in a year, 12 days of Christmas, and 12 to a dozen. The three niches carved into the far end of the chamber are believed to have contained the cremated remains of Hittite royalty.