Enclosed by 6km walls, Hattuşa was, by the standards of its era, an immense city, and its scale is still awe-inspiring today. The site, on a steeply sloping expanse dotted with rocky outcrops, was originally occupied by the Hatti, who established a settlement here around 2500 BC. The Hittites moved in after their conquest of central Anatolia, and made it their capital from about 1375 BC onwards, as their empire was reaching its greatest extent.
Archeologists unearthed the Hittite city during the first half of the nineteenth century. Of the numerous buildings once scattered over a wide area, only the limestone foundation blocks survive. The vulnerable upper parts, originally consisting of timber frames supporting clay brick walls, have long since vanished.
The Büyük Mabet
The largest and best-preserved Hittite temple to survive at Hattuşa, the Büyük Mabet, or “Great Temple”, stands immediately beyond the ticket office. Built around the fourteenth or thirteenth century BC, and one of an original seventy on the site, it was dedicated to the storm god Teshuba and the sun goddess Hebut. It consisted of a central temple building, surrounded by 78 storage rooms laid out in an irregular plan.
You approach it between two large stone blocks, remnants of the ceremonial gateway. A stone lion nearby originally formed part of a cistern, while a large, green cubic stone a little further on was reputedly a wedding present from Ramses II of Egypt, who married a Hittite princess. In Hittite times the king and queen, in their roles as high priest and priestess, would have led processions through here on holy days. Most visitors now follow the same route, along a clearly defined processional way of uneven slabs.
The temple consisted of about twelve small chambers around a central courtyard, with the rooms that would have contained the cult statues of Teshuba and Hebut at the northeastern end – the god on the left and the goddess on the right.
Just below the Büyük Mabet, archeologists have identified an early Assyrian merchant quarter. This held the Hittite equivalent of the Rosetta Stone, a parallel Hittite hieroglyph and Akkadian inscription that was instrumental in the final cracking of the hieroglyphic code, and is now in Ankara’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
The Aslanlıkapı, or “Lion Gate”, takes its name from the two stone lions that flank the outer entrance (one an all-too-obvious replica), symbolically guarding Hattuşa from attackers and evil spirits. It also marks the start of a surviving section of dry-stone city wall, which runs along the top of a massive sloping embankment that’s 10m in height and surfaced with irregular limestone slabs.
The Yerkapı, or “Earth Gate”, along the embankment from the Aslanlıkapı, is more popularly known as the Sphinx Gate after the two huge sphinxes that once guarded its inner portal; one returned in 2011 to the museum in Boğazkale.
The most striking feature of the Sphinx Gate is the 70m tunnel that cuts through from the city side of the walls to the exterior. It was built using the corbel arch technique, a series of flat stones leaning towards each other creating its triangular profile. Some archeologists argue that it enabled the defenders of the city to make surprise attacks on besieging enemies. Others, citing the tunnel’s obvious visibility from the outside – and the presence of two sets of monumental steps leading up the embankment – suggest that it had a more ceremonial function.
The Kralkapı, or “King’s Gate”, east of the Sphinx Gate, is named after the regal-looking figure carved in relief on the left-hand pillar of the inner gateway. This actually represents the god Teshuba, and shows him sporting a conical hat while raising his left fist in the air as though holding an invisible sword. What you see is a copy – the original is in Ankara’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.