Hittite adventure in Hattuşa

This Sunday ended up just being a wild messed-up but still fun goose chase. I had wanted to visit Hattuşa (pronounced hattusha) for a while now and after my visit to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations the week before, the history enthusiast in me thought that it should be my next destination.

Entrance to the Great Temple
Entrance to the Great Temple

Hattuşa, located in the province of Çorum, was established as the capital of Hittite empire between 1375 BC and 1200 BC, which at its peak extended as far as the Bosphorus to the whole of Syria. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 but only made public to visitors around 10 years ago. The whole city area comprises 182 hectares and consists of two parts, the Lower City and the Upper City. The Hattians, the (considered) indigenous people of the area, the predecessors of the Hittites, had settled in the Lower City as early as the third millenium BC soon after which came a colony of Assyrian Merchants as well who were trading with Mesopotamia.

Your visit to Hattuşa would start from the parking lot in the Lower City along a path which leads to the Lion Basin which originally had four lions at each of its corner, which could have been used either for the base of a monument or a basin. From there, the path takes you to the Büyük Mabet (Great Temple) which is one of the best preserved Hittites temple ruins, despite which you’ll still need quite a lot of imagination to recreate the whole thing in your mind. The Hittites worshipped over 1000 different deities the most important of which were Teshub, the storm god, and Hepatu, the sun goddess. It is thought that the Büyük Mabet was built in their honour.

Nephrite boulder found in the Great Temple
Nephrite boulder found in the Great Temple

Within the Büyük Mabet lies a strange green boulder, presumed to be either nephrite and jadeite and which is thought to be a gift from Ramses II to the Hittites following the peace treaty of Kadesh, after the Battle of Kadesh in Syria (although there is not enough evidence to back this). There are also theories that the stone might have been used wish stone or one to keep away the evil spirits – as you rub your hands against the stone, you can feel the finger marks of those which were there before you, maybe even a few 1000 years ago. Around the temple are storerooms from where storage jars and tablets were found during excavations and which also includes a vessel which must have been used to store about 1200 L of wine, oil and grain.

Storage room for 1200 L of wine. Anyone?
Storage room for 1200 L of wine. Anyone?

Further along the road is the Aslanlı Kapı (Lion’s Gate) which is one of at least six gates in the city walls surrounding the whole city. At the Aslanlı Kapı are two stone lions, the left one restored, which protected the city from evil spirits. Next is Yer Kapı (Earth Gate) which consists of a 70 m ‘secret’ tunnel which is still holding up. Quite impressive. You can still go through the tunnel outside as soldiers did back in the days and then climb up quite a gigantic stair case and come in through the Sfenksli Kapı (Sphinx Gate) which previously had been in Berlin and Istanbul for restoration and are now finally back where they belong. From there on, you reach the Upper City which was mainly where mostly temples were found. Last is the Kral Kapı (King’s Gate) named after the Hittite warrior god standing there ready to unleash his wrath on anyone who dared to harm to the city. The figure standing there, however, is only a replica; the original was moved to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara for safekeeping.

Just 2-3 km from Hattuşa is Yazılıkaya (Inscribed Rock) which is the largest known Hittite rock sanctuary. It comprises two chambers: in the first shows the relief of several gods and goddesses on the wall including Teshub and Hepatu, and the second gallery is thought to have been a memorial chapel for Tudhaliya IV.

Outside in the courtyard are local artisans who sell rock carvings made from supposedly nephrite mined from the Hattuşa site and other types of rocks as well as clay tablets. We did manage to grab some souvenirs after a good deal bargaining along with some leblebi (roasted chickpeas) from the city centre for which the Çorum province is well known.

Artefacts sold by local artisans
Artefacts sold by local artisans

In theory, it is quite straight forward to get there. From Ankara, you can get a bus to Sungurlu from where you will need to take a dolmuş (minibus) to Boğazkale which is where the actual site is found. There usually is no need to book in advance, several buses run between Ankara to Sungurlu daily by different companies so you should be all right even if you buy your ticket half an hour before the bus departs – which is what we did. The bus company should provide a free shuttle bus service to the city centre where you can take the dolmuş. If you ask at the information office before getting the shuttle service, they should be able to drop you at the bus stop. The Hattuşa site is only 1-2 km away from where you’re dropped off by the dolmuş. If you don’t mind some walking, you can walk around the site which would be the best way to tour it in my opinion but it is quite a long way – about 5-8 km, with some steep slopes at some parts. Alternatively you can also take a taxi.

Now if you messed up like us (it was all me to be honest) and went to Çorum instead, DO NOT PANIC. Despite Hattuşa being located in the province of Çorum known mostly for its Phrygian and Hittites site, there is actually no direct bus which goes to the archaeological sites around. Your best shot would be to take a dolmuş from the Çorum Otogarı to Sungurlu and to make your way from there.

The problem with the dolmuşes also, they do not depart on a set time but rather when they’re full so you might be waiting for a long time. When we reached the bus stop, we had to have a guy called some other guy who was responsible for the bus service between Hattuşa and Boğazkale, who said that if we could wait till 6 pm (it was around 2 pm at the time and our bus back to Ankara was scheduled for 6.30 pm!), he would come back to Sungurlu to get us. So basically if you are on a tight schedule, get a taxi which would cost around 70-80 TL for a round trip and some of them can even show you around the site for an extra fee. That would have been our only option if the bus driver hadn’t offered to take us around (looks like he didn’t have much going on on the other side) for 100 TL, which amounted to 25 TL per person.

About 36 km from Boğazkale lies another excavation site, Alacahöyük, of great importance as well for Hittite history. Whilst this is rather a small site and most of the monuments have been moved to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, it is worth a visit if you have time after Hattuşa – we didn’t. To get there, you would have to take a bus or dolmuş from Çorum to Alaca and from there another to Alacahöyük. Despite everything being quite close to each other, there is actually no direct connections between the sites which can quite frustrating at times. Warning: You’ll be spending quite some time (and money) travelling and spend very little time on the actual sites, but I had hardly left the site and was already planning my next visit there.

Some yummies with tea before we made our way back home, including some of the best baklava ever.
Some yummies with tea before we made our way back home, including some of the best baklava ever.

It in the end, it was quite a little adventure we had there. We got shown around by a local who actually studies in Ankara and was returning back there in the evening around the same time as us – we even saw him at the Otogar when we were waiting for our own bus. So in the evening, when he was dropping us and consequently himself back to the Sungurlu city centre, we had the whole family coming along with us. They even offered us accommodation for the next time we would come back to Boğazkale. Turkish hospitality never ceases to amaze me.

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