What is Hattusa? (with picture)

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Hattusa was the ancient capital of the Hittite Empire, in modern-day Turkey. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1986. The site was largely unexplored until the late-19th century, but since then has been extensively excavated.

The Hattusa site sits in modern-day Turkey.
The Hattusa site sits in modern-day Turkey.

The Hittite Empire sprang up in Anatolia sometime during the 18th century BCE, reaching its height of power by the 14th century BCE. The Empire continued to flourish until the 12th century BCE, when it broke up into many smaller kingdoms and city states, a number of which survived for centuries more.

Indigenous people settled the region that would become Hattusa well before the Hittite Empire sprang up, with archeological evidence going back as far as 6000 BCE. In the 19th century BCE a number of merchants from Assyria set up a trading sector in the city that had built up in the area.

In the 18th century, not long after Hattusa was burned by a King Annita of Kushar, a Hittite king took control of Hattusa and claimed it as his capital. This first king named himself Hattusili I, meaning simply one from Hattusa. This was to begin a tradition of Hattusa as a capital that would span nearly thirty Hittite kings.

Two exceptions to Hattusa’s role as seat of the kingdom and later Empire occurred under the rules of Tudhaliya I and Muwatalli II, both of whom moved the capital to protect it from hostile forces. Mursili III restored Hattusa as the capital, however, and it remained the center of the Empire until the dissolution of the Hittites in the 12th century BCE.

Since Hattusa’s rediscovery in the late-19th century, more than 30,000 clay tablets have been uncovered there. These tablets record a huge amount of the daily bureaucratic and religious activities of the Hittite state, consisting of contracts, messages between officials, prophetic declarations, ceremonial instructions, and legal codes. Some tablets also record Hittite literature, giving an important insight into the traditions of the era. One of the most fascinating tablets is a treaty of peace between the Egyptians and the Hittites, dating from the early-13th century BCE, and acting as one of the earliest known peace treaties in the world.

The site at Hattusa contains a number of attractions for visitors. Perhaps most popular is the Great Temple, which is the first enclosure one reaches on entering Hattusa. The Great Temple is dedicated to Teshub, the god of storms. Other gods worshiped in the temple, such as Hepatu the sun god, are featured as well. Another popular artifact is the large green rock, given by the Pharaoh Ramses II in honor of the peace treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites. Expanding out, other sites of interest include the Southern Fort, a number of well-preserved tombs with hieroglyphs on the walls, the Lion’s Gate, and the Yellow Castle. The nearby town of Bogazkale also has a museum which can be a good supplement to the site itself.

Getting to Hattusa is fairly easy. One takes a bus from Ankara to the town of Sungurlu. From there a taxi can be rented to go directly to Bogazkale, which is immediately adjacent to Hattusa itself.

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    • The Hattusa site sits in modern-day Turkey.
      The Hattusa site sits in modern-day Turkey.