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Hattusa: The Cursed City of the Hatti and the Hittite Empire

Hattusa, also known as Hattusha, is an ancient city located near modern Boğazkale in the Çorum Province of Turkey’s Black Sea Region. This ancient city once served as the capital of the Hittite Empire, one of the superpowers of the ancient world.

In the Amarna Letters, which have been dated to the 14th century BC, the Hittites were referred to by the Egyptians as a major power, alongside Assyria, Mitanni, and Babylonia, and they were treated as equals.

Hattusa was established by the Hatti, the indigenous people who were living in that area prior to the coming of the Hittites. The origins of the Hittites are still a mystery, and they may have invaded / immigrated into Hatti territory, settled, and established their empire there.

Ruins of Hattusa – capital of the Hittite Empire near modern Boğazkale, Turkey. (robnaw /Adobe Stock)

Establishment of Hattusa

During the 3rd millennium BC, the Hatti had established a city state based on Hattusa. At this point of time, Hattusa was one of the many small city states in the region. Another possible city state of the Hatti is Kanesh, which is located close to Hattusa. A trading colony / colonies is / are said to have been established by the Assyrians around 2000 BC, and the name of Hattusa is first discovered from written documents dated to that period of time.

This period of Hattusa’s history came to an end around 1700 BC. During this time, the city was conquered and then razed to the ground by Anitta, a king of Kussara (a city state whose location has not yet been identified). The king is said to have left an inscription to proclaim his victory over Hattusa and lay a curse on the ground the city stood on and on anyone who might rebuild the city and rule there. Anitta was either a Hittite king or as a forerunner of the later Hittites.

King’s Gate of Hattusa. (Oez /Adobe Stock)

It seems a little ironic that when Hattusa was resettled around the middle of the 17th century BC it was done so by Hattusili, a Hittite ruler who was known also as ‘Man of Kussara’. Hattusili means ‘One from Hattusa,’ and may have been a name adopted by this king following his occupation of Hattusa. Due to the scarcity of records, it is unknown if Anitta rebuilt the city following its destruction. This, in turn, raises the question of whether Hattusili, like Anitta, had to conquer Hattusa by force, or simply built over the ruins of the old city.

Hattusa’s Structures

What is more certain is that the Hittites became a powerful force in the region, built up an empire, and designated Hattusa as their imperial capital. It was during this period of time that monumental buildings were constructed in Hattusa, the remains of which can still be seen today. For example, the city was found to have been defended by a monumental wall that was more than 8km (4.97 miles) in length. Additionally, the upper city was further fortified by a double wall with more than a hundred towers.

This wall is known to have five gates, including the famous Lion Gate and Sphinx Gate. Apart from these defensive structures, many temples have also been uncovered in Hattusa. The best preserved of these is the Great Temple, which is located in the lower city, and dates to the 13th century BC.

The Lion Gate at Hattusa. (robnaw /Adobe Stock)

In 2016, archaeologists also discovered a secret 2,300-year-old tunnel at Hattusa. Researchers said they had “previously found a cuneiform tablet here, featuring a king who explains to priests what to do during ceremonies. This secret tunnel might have had a sacred function.”

Tunnel in old Hittite capital Hattusa, Turkey. (Matyas Rehak /Adobe Stock)

Another interesting feature at Hattusa is the mysterious large green rock which locals loving refer to as the “wish stone.” The huge rock is believed to be made of serpentine or nephrite, meaning it is not a common stone found in the area. No one is sure what exactly it was used for or how it came to be in Hattusa.

Greenstone cube in Hattusa, ancient Hittite capital. (Selcuk /Adobe Stock)

Abandoning Hattusa

The Hittite Empire began its decline around the middle of the 13th century BC, mainly due to the rise of their eastern neighbors, the Assyrians. Moreover, raids by hostile forces, such as the Sea Peoples and the Kaska further weakened the Hittite Empire, finally resulting in its collapse during the first half of the 12th century BC. In 1190 BC, the Kaskas managed to capture Hattusa, which they then sacked and burned.

Hattusa was abandoned for the next 400 hundred years, and then was resettled by the Phrygians. The site continued to exist as a settlement during the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods, though its years of glory were already long behind it.

In the meantime, the Hittites faded, and eventually disappeared completely, with the exception of a few references in the Bible and some documents from Egypt. It was only during the 19th century, when excavations began to be carried out in Boğazkale, that the Hittites and their capital, Hattusa, were re-discovered by the modern world.

Illustration of the ancient city of Hattusa and its soldiers. (Lunstream /Adobe Stock)



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