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Hattusa: The Ancient Capital of The Hittites

One of Turkey’s lesser visited but historically significant attraction is the ruin of an ancient city known as Hattusa, located near modern Boğazkale within the great loop of the Kızılırmak River. The city once served as the capital of the Hittite Empire, a superpower of the Late Bronze Age whose kingdom stretched across the face of Anatolia and northern Syria, from the Aegean in the west to the Euphrates in the east.

The Hittite Empire is mentioned several times in the Bible as one of the most powerful empires of the ancient times. They were contemporary to the ancient Egyptians and every bit their equal. In the Battle of Kadesh, the Hittites fought the mighty Egyptian empire, nearly killing Pharaoh Ramses the Great, and forcing him to retreat back to Egypt. Years later, the Egyptians and the Hittites signed a peace treaty, believed to the oldest in the world, and Ramses himself married a Hittite princess to seal the deal. 

The Hittites played a pivotal role in ancient history, far greater than they are given credit for in modern history books. The Hittites developed the lightest and fastest chariots in the world, and despite belonging to the Bronze Age, were already making and using iron tools.

Incredibly, as recently as the turn of the 20th century, the Hittites were considered merely a hearsay since no evidence of the empire’s existence was ever found. This changed with the discovery and excavation of Hattusa, along with the unearthing of tens of thousands of clay tablets documenting many of the Hittites' diplomatic activities, the most important of which is the peace settlement signed after the Battle of Kadesh between the Hittites and the Egyptians in the 13th century BC.

Hattusa lies at the south end of the Budaközü Plain, on a slope rising approximately 300 meters above the valley. It was surrounded by rich agricultural fields, hill lands for pasture and forests that supplied enough wood for building and maintaining a large city. The site was originally inhabited by the indigenous Hattian people before it became the capital of the Hittites sometime around 2000 BC.

Hattusa was destroyed, together with the Hittite state itself, in the 12th century BC. Excavations suggest that the city was burnt to the ground, however, this destruction appears to have taken place after many of Hattusa’s residents had abandoned the city, carrying off the valuable objects as well as the city’s important official records. The site uncovered by archaeologists was little more than a ghost town during its final days.

At its peak, the city covered 1.8 square km and comprised an inner and outer portion, both surrounded by a massive and still visible course of walls, the outer of which ran for 8 kilometers surrounding the whole city. The inner city was occupied by a citadel with large administrative buildings and temples. The royal residence, or acropolis, was built on a high ridge.

To the south lay an outer city of about 1 square km, with elaborate gateways decorated with reliefs showing warriors, lions, and sphinxes. Four temples were located here, each set around a porticoed courtyard, together with secular buildings and residential structures. Outside the walls are cemeteries, most of which contain cremation burials. Between 40,000 and 50,000 people is believed to have lived in the city at the peak.

 Lion Gate in Hattusa

King's Gate in Hattusa.

Sphinx Gate in Hattusa.

A modern full-scale reconstruction of a section of the wall surrounding Hattusa.

The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. It is believed to be the earliest example of any written international agreement of any kind. 

Panoramic view of the Lower City of Hattusa.

Processional way of the Grand Temple complex, Hattusa.

Royal Citadel in Hattusa.

Entrance to a stone tunnel called the Yerkapı, in Hattusa.

Yerkapı in Hattusa.

The Yerkapi rampart at Hattusa.

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