The Ancient Hittite Capital of Hattusha

Classified as a World Heritage site in 1986, the archaeological site of Hattusha shows the remains of a city that had widespread influence in Anatolia and northern Syria in the 2nd millennium B.C. It is remarkable for its urban organization and the types of construction that have been preserved, especially its temples and fortifications. The nearby site of Yazilikaya, with its ensemble of religious rock art, is included in the UNESCO classification.

The Hittite capital between 1375-1200 BC, Hattusha is now a site encircled by a road 5 km. long, composed essentially of building foundations, city walls, sculpted rocks, and several preserved hieroglyphic inscriptions. Not much was known about the Hittites until the 20th century. A French explorer discovered ruins of the city in 1834, and archaeological excavations started in 1905. The discovery of Hittite archives, written in cuneiform characters, enabled researchers to retrace the history of the Empire. The Empire was vast, spreading over the Middle East and rivaling the Egyptian Empire over 3000 yrs. ago. They spread into Anatolia around 2000 BC and started to decline around 1250 BC with the arrival of the Phrygians, who devastated the city in 1180 BC.

We walked the quiet road around the city ruins, stopping at the Great Temple, the Lions Gate, and the Sphinx Gate. You could see by the foundations that the temple had been enormous. The Hittites had worshipped over 1000 divine beings, the most important being Teshub, the Rain God, and Hepatu, the Sun goddess. It was to these two gods that the temple was dedicated. There was a huge, open courtyard, where animals were sacrificed, and enormous clay pots, which had been used to store wine, oil, and grain.

The Lions Gate featured the foreparts of two lions carved from large stone blocks. There are hieroglyphic signs above one of the lions. The Gate forms part of the 13th C. BC ramparts. At the top of the hill is the Sphinx Gate, which guards a tunnel. On the other side of the Sphinx Gate is the Kings Gate, which matches the Lions Gate in form and size. Guarding its entryway is the representation of a warrior-god.

The most impressive part of the site is the Hieroglyphic Chamber, which served a cultic function as the symbolic entrance to the underworld. It was built around 1200 BC by the last king of Hattusa and probably served as a royal tomb. The hieroglyphics are remarkably well preserved. The last thing on the tour is the Grand Citadel, which housed the royal palace and the archives of the Empire. The archives, which were discovered in 1906, included a treaty between the Hittite monarch Hattusili III and the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II.

The landscape around Hattusha is savage. Mountains rise out of the dusty plain and huge boulders jet up out of the landscape. Continuing archaeological digs are uncovering new rock foundations, and the city walls are now being extensively restored.

Yazilikaya, situated 3 km. from Hattusha, signifies “rock inscriptions” or “written rock.” It is an open-air rock pantheon dating from the 13th C. BC, a natural religious sanctuary consisting of galleries carved in rock. It was the largest and most sacred of the Hittite religious sanctuaries, containing impressive reliefs of Hittite gods and goddesses. The best-preserved sculptures are found in a gallery accessed by a narrow path in the rock boulders. One relief is of 12 deities in procession. Others are of the war-god and the sun goddess. One large rock gallery was the Empire’s sanctuary; another housed the royal tombs. The steep rocks were probably used for sacrifices.

The more than 70 temples in the city of Hattusha made it the Hittite religious center and gave it its name, “City of Temples.”