Explore North Central Anatolia
The Hittite sites centred on the village of Boğazkale are the most impressive and significant in the whole of Anatolia, and are appropriately located amidst rolling countyside that has changed little through the centuries. This area was once the heart of the Hittite Empire and Hattuşa, spread over several square kilometres to the south of the modern village, was its capital. A few kilometres to the east is the temple site of Yazılıkaya, while Alacahöyük, a smaller Hittite settlement dating back to 4000 BC, 25km north of Boğazkale, is further off the beaten track, but worth the trip if you have your own transport. Excavation here began in earnest in 1905 and many of the objects unearthed are now housed at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in the capital. If you’ve already seen the museum, a visit to the original excavations is doubly interesting; if not, a quick visit to the new archeological museum in nearby Çorum is definitely worthwhile.
Note that despite the undoubted tourist appeal of the Hittite sites, public transport to Boğazkale is far from straightforward and can be incredibly frustrating . Most visit on their way between Ankara and Amasya.Read More
Enclosed by 6km walls, Hattuşa was, by the standards of the time, an immense city, and its scale is still awe-inspiring today. The site was originally occupied by the Hatti, who established a settlement here around 2500 BC. The Hittites moved in after their conquest of central Anatolia, making it their capital from about 1375 BC onwards, during the period when their empire reached its greatest extent.
The Hittite city was unearthed by archeologists during the first half of the nineteenth century. It occupies a steeply sloping expanse dotted with rocky outcrops, to the southwest of modern Boğazkale. 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.
Approaching the site from the village square takes you past a freshly reconstructed section of the old city wall (paid for with Japanese money) and leads to a ticket office. This office is left unmanned at night, which some find the most atmospheric time to visit Hattuşa – there are no touts or tour buses, and Boğazkale’s sleepy constellation provides just about enough light to get around without a torch.
The Hittites appear to have been an Indo-European people who moved into Anatolia around 2000 BC. Where exactly they came from remains unclear, though the Caucasus and the Balkans have been suggested. They entered the territories of the Hatti, an indigenous people, and though no records survive of how the Hittite rise to dominance came about, archeologists have found layers of burned material in most Hatti settlements indicating that there was at least some degree of violence involved. However, the fact that the Hittites also absorbed important elements of Hatti culture suggests that a more complex interaction may have taken place.
Initially the Hittites set up a number of city-states, drawn together during the mid-eighteenth century BC under King Anitta who transferred his capital from the city of Kushara (possibly modern Alişar) to Nesha (Kültepe), and destroyed Hattuşa, cursing any Hittite king who might attempt to rebuild the place. A century or so later his successor Labarna returned to Hattuşa and did just that. The Hittites came to regard Labarna and his wife Tawannanna as founders of the Hittite kingdom and their names were adopted as titles by subsequent monarchs.
In 1595 BC, Mursili I succeeded in capturing distant Babylon, but his successor (and assassin) Hantili lost many previous gains. Stability was restored under Tudhaliyas II around 1430 BC, and he re-established the Hittite state as an empire. An important period of expansion followed under King Suppiluliuma (1380–1315 BC), who secured the northern borders and conquered the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni. This achievement raised the Hittites to superpower status, equal with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. The Egyptians even asked Suppiluliuma to send one of his sons to marry the widow of Tutankhamun (the union never took place as the boy was murdered en route). After Suppiluliuma’s death, Hittite expansion continued and in 1286 BC, during the reign of Muwatalli II, a Hittite army defeated the Egyptians, commanded by Ramses II, at the Battle of Kadesh. Events from the battle can be seen carved into the columns at Luxor.
Following the conflict, peace between the two empires was established, cemented by the marriage of one of the daughters of Ramses II to Hattuşiliş III. However, the Hittite Empire had less than a century left. The arrival of the Sea Peoples in Anatolia ushered in a period of instability that was to erode Hittite power, culminating in the destruction of Hattuşa around 1200 BC, roughly the same time as the fall of Troy. The Phrygians replaced the Hittites as the dominant power in central Anatolia, taking over the ruins of Hattuşa and other Hittite cities.
Hittite civilization was highly advanced with a complex social system. The Hittite kings were absolute rulers, but there was an assembly called the panku, which at times appears to have wielded considerable influence. The major division in Hittite society was between free citizens and slaves: the former included farmers, artisans and bureaucrats, while the latter, although they could be bought and sold, probably had the right to own property and marry.
Hittite religion seems to have been adopted from the Hatti, with the weather god Teshuba and the sun goddess Hebut as the two most important deities. Up to a thousand lesser gods also played a role in the beliefs of the Hittites, who were in the habit of incorporating the gods of conquered peoples into their own pantheon.