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HATTUŞA (BOĞAZKÖY)

World heritage Hittite site

If the mosque at Divriği is  Turkey’s least visited world heritage site, then the second least visited must surely be Hattuşa, the site of the ancient Hittite capital.

Hattuşa is sandwiched between Yozgat and Çorum, in a part of the country which sees relatively few tourists. That’s a great shame because the ruins here are extensive and unusual. What’s more the surrounding countryside is very beautiful and the neighbouring small village of Boğazkale a bite-sized taste of rural Anatolia.

Today the rebuilding of one stretch of the outer wall of this ancient city has made it easier for visitors to appreciate what it might have looked like in its heyday. Hard though it is to believe it now when everything Hittite is all the rage in the region but in 1834 when the French traveller Charles Texier stumbled upon Hattuşa the Hittites had been completely forgotten. Not surprisingly, Texier did not realize what he had found, and it was only in the 20th century that the story began to be pieced together.

The most important finds from Hattuşa and Yazılıkaya have long since been taken away to safe keeping in the Ankara Museum of Anatolian Civilisations (other areifacts are in the İstanbul and Berlin Archaeology Museums).

There are three major sites to visit in the vicinity of pretty little Boğazköy (also called Boğazkale), which means that it’s well worth planning an overnight stay. A new museum opened there in 2011.

A night spent in Boğazköy will give you a chance to experience real rural tranquility, disturbed only by the sounds of honking geese and braying donkeys. You won’t find much to do in the evening, but you should go home completely refreshed and a whole lot wiser about a little-remembered slice of Anatolia’s ancient history.

Backstory

Some 4,500 years ago this part of Central Anatolia appears to have been occupied by the Hattis, probably indigenous Anatolians who buried their dead clothed and huddled up in giant pots.

Gradually their place was taken by the Indo-European Hittites who pushed the Hattis aside under a succession of rulers with unpronounceable names until eventually Anitta, the son of Pithana, made Hattuşa the capital of a new empire in 1665 BC.

Around the site

Once upon a time Hattuşa was defended by huge walls that extended for six km and were broken up with 200 towers. At least six gates were cut into these walls and today the remains of these gates, especially the Aslan Kapı (Lion Gate) named after the rather docile-looking stone beasts defending it, are some of the most striking surviving structures.

Equally impressive is a tunnel that runs under the walls near the Sfenksli Kapı (Sphinx Gate); walking through it, it’s still possible to admire the way the Hittites - who didn’t know how to create a true arch - improvised by propping stones against each other, a system that proved strong enough to hold up the roof for three millennia.

The walls and gates are obvious enough for anyone to pick out. However, it takes quite a stretch of the imagination to bring some of the other structures back to life because most of what remains is foundation stones left behind after wood-and-mud superstructures have vanished.

The Büyük Mabed is a case in point. This “Great Temple’ must once have been an impressive sight although nowadays only scattered stones remain. It was in here, though, that archaeologists found a cache of clay storage jars containing hundreds of clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform writing.

More such tablets were found in the Büyük Kale (Great Fortress) whence the kings governed the area. Once translated, these turned out to be the state archives from which it was possible to work out a short history of the Hittites.

Perhaps most interesting of all the ‘documents’ was what turned out to be the earliest known written treaty between two nations, the Treaty of Kadesh, which was drawn up by  King Hattuşiliş II and the Egyptian Pharoah Ramses II c. 1270 BC. This is now in the İstanbul Archaeological Museum.

It takes a while to walk around the site at Hattuşa which it is very spread out (and lacking in shade – bring a hat and plenty of water).

The site looks drastically different depending on when you choose to visit. In spring and early summer it’s cloaked in lovely emerald-green grass but by late summer this has shriveled up completely and the site takes on the appearance of semi-desert.

Yazılıkaya

If the excavations at Hattuşa can seem rather bamboozling, the remains at nearby Yazılıkaya (‘Inscribed Rock’) are a whole different ball-game. 

Like the Romans who came after them, the Hittites tended to absorb local deities into their own pantheon so that they became known as the “people of 1000 divinities”. Here, in a deep defile, they established an outdoor gallery of religious art in celebration of some of their many deities.

Even today the images are easy to distinguish, with long lines of pointy-headed gods marching along the rockface, their bodies facing forwards, their heads sideways, a typical feature of Hittite art. Here, too, are images of the storm god Teshub and his wife, the sun goddess Sharruma, as well as depictions of kings with names like Tudhaliya which might have been lost forever had it not been for the clay tablets found at Hattuşa.

Offerings to the gods would probably have been left on the ledges in the defile, alongside urns containing the remains of the kings.

Impressive as they are, these images apparently suffered damage during ill-thought-out attempts to make copies of them in 1976 and the fear is that they may eventually fade away.

It’s a 3km uphill walk from Hattuşa to Yazılıkaya, but you can easily visit both sites in the same day.

Sleeping

Hattuşas Pension. Tel: 0364-452 2013

Aşıkoğlu Hotel. Tel: 0364-452 2004

Başkent Hotel. Tel: 0364-452 2037

Kale Hotel. Tel: 0364-452 3126

Transport info

Buses run from Ankara to Sungurlu whence there are dolmuşes to Boğazkale (extremely infrequent at weekends).

The newly waymarked Hitit Yolu walking route runs from Çorum to Hattuşa passing by Şapinuva.

Day trip destinations

Çorum

Şapinuva

Yozgat

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