A tale of three world heritage sites

The Hittites were a somewhat mysterious, slave-owning, Indo-European people who left copious records inscribed on baked clay tablets. They appear to have descended on Anatolia some 3,000 years ago (from where is unclear), driving out a pre-existing group

A tale of three world heritage sites

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 Turkey that 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 small neighboring village of Boğazkale is a bite-sized taste of rural Anatolia.

The Hittites were a somewhat mysterious, slave-owning, Indo-European people who left copious records inscribed on baked clay tablets. They appear to have descended on Anatolia some 3,000 years ago (from where is unclear), driving out a pre-existing group of people with a very similar name, the Hatti. As so often happens, the newcomers simply took over the capital of those they had defeated, and around 1375 B.C. the old Hatti capital of Hattuşa became the center of an expanding Hittite empire that at one time encompassed parts of Iraq and Syria. The Hittites even put up a challenge to the Egyptians, although it was only time before they too met their match in the Phrygians, who swarmed in from Thrace and set up a rival capital at Gordion. The Hittite settlement at Hattuşa appears to have come to an end circa 1200 B.C. There are three major sites to visit in the vicinity of Boğazkale, which means that it's well worth planning an overnight stay. The main site is Hattuşa, which sprawls over the hillside to the southeast of the village. Once upon a time Hattuşa was defended by huge walls that extended for six kilometers. 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 are 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 archeologists 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). Once translated, these turned out to be 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, drawn up around 1270 B.C. by King Hattuşiliş II and the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II.

It takes a while to walk around the site at Hattuşa, which 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 a semi-desert appearance.

If the excavations at Hattuşa can seem rather bamboozling, the remains at nearby Yazılıkaya ("Inscribed Rock") are a whole different ballgame. Here, in a deep defile, the Hittites established an outdoor gallery of religious art in celebration of some of their many deities (over a thousand, according to some sources). Even today the images are easy to distinguish, with long lines of pointy-headed gods marching along the rock face, their bodies facing forward, 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. Offerings to the gods would probably have been left on the ledges in the defile, alongside urns containing the remains of the kings.

It's a three-kilometer uphill walk from Hattuşa to Yazılıkaya, but you can easily visit both sites in the same day. With a car it's also possible to squeeze in a trip to Alacahöyük, which is 36 kilometers away. Here, the most impressive monument is another Sfenksli Kapı (Sphinx Gate), although these sphinxes, like those at Hattuşa, are actually copies of the originals. Bronze Age tombs excavated here suggest that the Hatti kings were probably buried at Alacahöyük. A small museum shows the 15 layers of history represented at the site, in a display that looks rather like a termite's nest.

Although there is basic accommodation in Yozgat and some smarter business hotels in Çorum (the chickpea capital of Turkey), the best places to stay are all in Boğazkale, where you are within walking distance of the two main sites. Here there is one comfortable village pension as well a couple of motels on the outskirts, all of them with restaurants attached. Boğazkale also has a small museum which contains a few Hittite artifacts and some useful site maps. Of course, the most important finds from all three of the local sites have long since been taken away to safekeeping in Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, where they rub shoulders with the Phrygian finds from Gordion. (Other artifacts are in the İstanbul and Berlin archeology museums.)

A night spent in Boğazkale 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 Turkey's ancient history.

Where to stay

Hattuşa Pension: (0364) 452 2013

Aşıkoğlu Hotel: (0364) 452 2004

Başkent Hotel: (0364) 452 2037

Kale Hotel: (0364) 452 3126

How to get there

Buses run from Ankara to Sungurlu, where there are dolmuşes to Boğazkale (extremely infrequent on weekends). Getting to Alacahöyük by public transport is probably more time-consuming than it's worth. There are dolmuşes from Çorum to Alaca village and from there to the ruins, but there's no public transport between Boğazkale and Alacahöyük, which is what you really want. Probably, the best bet is to agree on a price with a taxi driver to ferry you between the three sites with waiting time thrown in. (You'll need plenty of time to do justice to Hattuşa but less for the other two sites.)

Sunday's Zaman

Last Mod: 19 Ağustos 2007, 17:05
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