Hattusa gets relatively little attention compared with Turkey’s other ancient cities – probably due to its remote location. But as the capital of one of the Bronze Age’s most dominant empires, its historical importance cannot be understated. Visiting Hattusa today, you’ll find impressive ruins spread throughout a vast area and set amidst a beautiful natural setting.
Hattusa is located near the modern town of Boğazkale in central Turkey’s Çorum Province. The town is also home to the Hittite rock temple of Yazılıkaya which can easily be visited on the same day.
While most visitors prefer to have a vehicle, all of the landmarks mentioned below can be toured on foot if you’re able to handle walking around 10 km throughout the day.
Be sure to check the end of the article for tips on transportation and how to visit Hattusa and nearby Alaca Höyük in a two-day, one-night excursion from Ankara.
Who Were the Hittites?
The Hittites were an Indo-European people who entered Anatolia around 2000 BC. While first divided by lordships, they were later unified into what became Anatolia’s first large-scale centralized government.
The Hittites spoke what we now simply call the ‘Hittite language’ along with Luwian, two of the oldest Indo-European languages we know of. And they borrowed the cuneiform alphabet of Mesopotamia to compose many of their documents.
By the 13th century BC, Luwian would become the dominant language of Anatolia, and the Hittites even developed a unique hieroglyphic script unrelated to that of Egypt.
But the Hittites also borrowed many words from their predecessors, the Hattians. The Hattians, whom the Hittites had great admiration for, were an advanced Early Bronze Age culture who were based at the site of Alaca Höyük.
The Hittites would later establish their capital at Hattusa, about 25 km north of Alaca Höyük. The name of the city was a reference to the original Hattian inhabitants, while the Hittites even referred to Anatolia as a whole as ‘Land of the Hatti.’
But previously, the original capital of the Hittites had been at a place called Nesha, not far from Kayseri. Around 1750 BC, before the rise of the Hittite Empire, a Hittite king named Anitta besieged the city and burnt it to the ground, claiming that whoever rebuilt the city would be cursed!
Eventually, though, following the emergence of the Hittite Empire around 1650 BC, King Hattusili I would settle in Hattusa in the early 16th century. And the city would remain the center of a mighty empire for the next several hundred years.
Archaeologists and historians have divided Hittite history into three periods: the Old Kingdom (1650-1450 BC), the Middle Kingdom (1500 BC-1380 BC) and the New Kingdom, or Imperial Period (1380-1200 BC).
Visiting Hattusa today, most of the significant landmarks date from the Imperial Period. During this time, the empire was restrengthened by King Suppiluliuma I who defeated the Mittani Kingdom and preceded to march through Syria. And his grandson, Muwatalli II, would later fight the forces of Egypt’s Ramesses II at the famous Battle of Kadesh in 1259 BC.
After a long and bloody war, the two sides signed a peace treaty, a copy of which was discovered at Hattusa (see below). And what followed was cooperation and even intermarriages between the two powers.
The true cause of the Hittite Empire’s collapse, which occurred around 1200 BC, remains a mystery. But perhaps it’s no coincidence that Troy, a Hittite vassal, was defeated in the Trojan War around the same time.
Despite being one of the Bronze Age’s most dominant civilizations, we knew little of the Hittites until quite recently. Though they were mentioned a few times in the Old Testament, nobody had even bothered to seek out their capital.
But in 1834, archaeologist Charles Texier was searching for the capital of the Galatians when he ended up discovering the carvings of Yazılıkaya.
Numerous other researchers visited the area over the next few decades, eventually finding cuneiform tablets. Only then did it dawn on them that they’d uncovered the lost capital of the Hittite Empire, which was a much bigger deal than previously imagined.
Excavations, which began in 1907, continued throughout the 20th century and are still ongoing today.
While Hattusa opens from 10:00, Yazılıkaya is accessible from earlier in the morning. Therefore, it would be wise to start your day here.
The two sites are about 3-4 km apart, and if you’re getting around on foot, it would be wise to choose a hotel somewhere in the middle (see below).
The largest known rock temple of the Hittites, Yazılıkaya contains two main chambers.
Neither chamber originally had a roof, but the area in between contains the foundations of what would’ve been a typical roofed temple.
Chamber A is the larger of the two, and archaeologists believe that it played a central role in the annual Hittite New Years festivities. While it contains many carvings, they’re not in nearly as good condition as those of Chamber B.
Interestingly, some of the carvings are believed to depict the Hurrian pantheon. The Hurrians, who occupied much of southeastern Anatolia, were rivals of the Hittites until being dominated by them in the 13th century BC. The Hittites then absorbed aspects of Hurrian religion and culture into their own.
Though hardly discernible today, the name of each deity was written in Luwian hieroglyphs, the main language used throughout the Hittite Empire.
Another carving depicts the meeting of Storm God Nerik and Sky Goddess Arinna, the two prominent Hittite deities. But the best-preserved and largest relief in Chamber A is that of King Thuthaliya IV (c. 1237–1209 BC), likely the last king to have worked on this chamber.
Walking through a narrow passageway between the rocks, you’ll arrive at Chamber B, the smaller but more impressive of the two. This chamber likely played a role in the Hittite royal cult – but not for very long.
It was built by Suppiluliuma II in dedication to his father, Thuthaliya IV. And for reasons unknown to us, Suppiluliuma II (c. 1207–1178 BC) would end up being the last ever king of the Hittite Empire.
Interestingly, archaeologists now suspect that the carvings in the two chambers may have also held an astronomical significance.
The carvings here are much easier to make out. And on the right side of the wall, you’ll find a row of twelve gods of the underworld carrying swords.
On the opposite wall, meanwhile, is a large depiction of Nergal, the main god of the underworld, whose body is comprised of four lions. Notice how the overall form seems to deliberately resemble that of a sword.
We also see another depiction of Thuthaliya IV, while an altar in the center probably once held his cult image.
Leaving the chamber, you can also explore the foundations of the ruined temple and a small forested area. All in all, Yazılıkaya shouldn’t take more than a half-hour of your time. Heading back toward Hattusa, be sure to stop and admire to gorgeous views of the central Anatolia plains.
For those getting around on foot, the walk to Hattusa is a long but pleasant one.
Even before arriving at the city’s main boundary walls, you should pass by what seems to be an additional fortification wall. At the time of my visit, it was still being excavated.
Hattusa hasn’t appeared in the news lately, especially with all the recent breaking archaeological discoveries being made in Turkey’s southeast. But given the site’s massive size, there are surely more significant finds waiting to be uncovered.
At the time of my visit, a ticket to visit Hattusa cost a mere 12 TL – almost comical considering the effort and expense required to get there.
The City Walls
Approaching the main site, you’ll pass by a 65 m-long recreation of the original city walls that was added in the early 2000s. It was constructed using adobe bricks of the same size that the Hittites used. And archaeologists even replicated the same ancient construction methods.
We’re aware of the shape and style of the original walls thanks to the discovery of miniature models, now on display at Ankara’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
The dimensions of the recreation are believed to replicate the original wall perfectly, giving modern visitors a clear picture of what those visiting Hattusa in the Bronze Age would’ve seen.
This structure, however, only represents about 1% of the original wall! Thousands of years ago, it would’ve extended out to a staggering 6.6 km.
The Lower City & Great Temple
Just within the city gates is the extensive Lower City area. While there aren’t any particular landmarks of note, the surviving foundations reveal what a huge urban center this once was.
The city was divided by a large processional street which can still clearly be made out.
The Lower City is the oldest portion of Hattusa, having been continuously inhabited since the Early Bronze Age. At the time, the predecessors of the Hittites, the Hattians, had settled here, and archaeologists have discovered some of their remains.
Also back in Hattian times, an Assyrian trade colony was established at the town’s outskirts.
While much imagination is required overall, some rooms are quite impressive, such as the large structure with stone flooring that seems to have been built at a subterranean level.
Continuing northward, you’ll reach the sacred temple precinct, the largest building complex in all of Hattusa. Construction was likely started by Hattusili III sometime in the mid-13th century BC, and there were special temples for both the Storm God and Sun Goddess.
Access was likely restricted to the Hittite king, who also acted as head priest in Hittite society. While much of the temple was covered, the inner court was open to the sky and animal sacrifices were likely carried out within.
And at the end of the courtyard were two cult chambers which probably held cult images of the main deities.
While only the foundations remain, the temple complex originally consisted of stone pillars that were 1.5 m high, while the walls were built of adobe bricks.
Fortunately, the temple precinct isn’t completely void of interesting objects. Within one of the former storerooms, you’ll find a large and mysterious green stone. It’s most likely a block of nephrite, a type of jade, while some believe it could be serpentine.
Not only is it beautiful to look at, but the fact that there’s only one such stone in all of Hattusa makes this one of the most enigmatic aspects of the entire city.
Thus far, archaeologists have failed to come up with an explanation. But as cultures around the world have long used jade for sacred art and religious rituals, especially those involving water and rain, it surely had some type of cult function.
Today, many people visiting Hattusa like to place their hands over it while making a wish.
All in all, the temple complex contained over 200 storerooms. Aside from the green stone and some large storage vesels, archaeologists have also discovered numerous cuneiform tablets here.
If you’ve walked through the Lower City area on foot, you’ll end up reaching the temple entrance last. It’s demarcated by an interesting basin with two lion heads on each side. Carved from a single block of limestone, it was likely used for purification rites for those entering the sacred precinct.
At the base of the opposite hill, meanwhile, are the remains of a building that measured out to 32 x 36 m. Rather than a private residence, it likely served some governmental or religious purpose. And just nearby is a mysterious entryway to a subterranean chamber.
Ascending the Hill
While Hattusa is quite good when it comes to informational signage, the archaeological site is so vast that you’ll encounter many interesting landmarks with no labels at all. And as you make your way up the hill, you’ll pass by one such interesting structure on your right.
It appears to have been an elaborate building built around two large natural outcrops – not unlike Yazılıkaya. Perhaps it was one of the 30 or so temples that Hattusa once contained.
The foundations here appear even more impressive than many of those in the Lower City, so hopefully more information will appear soon.
As you make your way further uphill, you’ll arrive at a point where the road forks. Even if you’re on foot, follow the arrow and take the road to the right. Don’t worry – you’ll eventually see everything by following the recommended route.
And as you’ll soon discover, visiting Hattusa isn’t just about exploring the archaeological ruins, but admiring its scenic natural setting.
The Lion Gate
At the top of the hill, the first major landmark you’ll encounter is arguably Hattusa’s most famous. The Lion Gate, named as such for obvious reasons, is situated at what was the southwestern portion of the city walls.
The lions originally featured inlaid eyes. And while the lion on the right was discovered intact, the head of the left lion was completely missing. As such, what you see now is entirely a modern remake.
The lions originally stood at either side of a large arched entryway that was furnished with a wooden door. And the entrance was flanked by towers on either side.
The Sphinx Gate & 'Pyramid'
Continuing east along the upper road, you’ll arrive at yet another city gate. But the Yerkapı, as it’s locally known, has a few special surprises in store. The Yerkapı is a 30 m-high artificial bank over which this portion of the city walls was built.
The Sphinx Gate is situated at the top, but don’t head there just yet. First, walk through the 70 m-long postern taking you to the other side. It’s quite similar to the postern of nearby Alaca Höyük, but even longer.
Presumably, it served as a convenient way for pedestrians to get in and out of the city.
Coming out the other end of the gate, turn left. And once you reach the end, turn around to see something you likely didn’t expect to find while visiting Hattusa: a pyramid. Well, half a pyramid, anyway.
While the pyramids of Giza were already over a thousand years old by this point, one wonders if the construction wasn’t inspired by the Hittites’ numerous interactions with the Egyptians.
While not technically a pyramid, it’s the closest thing you’ll find to one in all of Anatolia.
Walking up the steps, you’ll finally arrive at the sphinxes. The ones on-site are replicas, while the originals can be found at the nearby Boğazköy Museum in town.
Unearthed during the initial excavations in 1907, the sphinxes date back to the 13th century BC. They feature human heads atop the bodies of winged lions, while one of them wears some kind of elaborate headpiece.
The two sphinxes have only been reunited just recently. Originally brought to Germany in the early 20th century, one was returned to Turkey in 1924. After residing at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum for nearly a century, it was only returned to Boğazkale in 2011.
The other sphinx, meanwhile, was kept in Germany for quite some time, largely due to various political complications. Interestingly, it was kept at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, despite having nothing to do with that site. It too was returned to Boğazkale in 2011.
Exploring the Upper City
From the top of the Yerkapı, you’ll notice the foundations of at least a dozen other structures spread out along the hill. While none of these contain any informational signage, they’re still fun to explore.
For those visiting Hattusa on foot, you can also simply walk across this area to reach the next major landmark (the King’s Gate) rather than relying on the road. This is one major advantage of walking.
As mentioned, Hattusa likely had as many as 30 temples, and many of these unmarked structures were used for religious purposes. While some only consist of foundations on top of which mudbrick structures were built, others have parts of their large stone walls intact.
Also around the Upper City, you’ll notice the ruins of small castles built atop natural outcrops.
The King's Gate
Located in the southeast portion of the city, the King’s Gate very much resembles the Lion Gate in size and style – just without the lions. Instead, you’ll find a detailed carving of a figure – originally thought to be a king, but now believed to be a god.
As one can tell at first glance, the carving here now is a modern recreation, while the original is kept in Ankara.
Just across from the King’s Gate is an area called Nisantepe, mainly known for its exposed rockface inscribed with hieroglyphs. But on the way there, notice the interesting arched chamber that resembles some of the city gates.
Sadly, the hieroglyphs of Nisantepe are badly weathered and can no longer be read today. Archaeologists believe, however, that the text described the deeds of King Suppiluliuma II. And as Suppiluliuma II was the last ever Hittite king, he most likely composed it himself.
Fortunately, there are much better-preserved hieroglyphs nearby.
The Hieroglyphic Chamber
Walk up the nearby staircase to reach what’s now called the ‘Southern Fort.’ Originally established by the Hittites, it was later reinforced by the next civilization to control these lands, the Phrygians. Fortunately, the Phrygians left the main landmark of interest here intact.
The chamber within the surviving walls was built by Suppiluliuma II who, as mentioned, was also likely responsible for the hieroglyphs below.
Here the king praises various gods and mentions the different countries and territories he’s conquered. He also mentions different sacrifices made to the vast Hittite pantheon.
The text also seems to indicate there being an underground passage beneath the chamber, which perhaps acted as a symbolic link to the underworld. And intriguingly, the carving of the king in the back of the chamber shows him carrying a symbol similar to the Egyptian ankh.
While the chamber is completely closed to tourists, one can still get a pretty good look by peaking through the gaps in the gate.
The Royal Palace
Coming down from the Southern Fort, head north and walk up another staircase to reach the former royal palace area. Known locally as Büyükkale, this area was once home to a huge palace, residences, warehouses and open courtyards surrounded by colonnades.
Despite their importance, the ruined structures here don’t appear much different from those elsewhere around Hattusa. It was in one of these rooms, however, that the Treaty of Kadesh was discovered, along with hundreds of others cuneiform tablets.
And as can be experienced today, the royals of Hattusa enjoyed some of the best views in town.
THE TREATY OF KADESH: Now on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, the Treaty of Kadesh is the first of its kind and one of the most important historical documents ever discovered.
In the 13th century BC, the expanding Hittite and Egyptian empires met several times in Kadesh, modern-day Syria, which resulted in intense fighting involving several thousand chariots.
While the Egyptians claimed victory, they were ultimately unable to take the walled city of Kadesh. Fighting then continued over the next several years, with territory in the Levant repeatedly switching back and forth between the two sides.
While the Battle of Kadesh was waged between Ramesses II and Muwatalli II, a peace treaty was eventually signed with the new Hittite king, Hattusili III, some 15 years after the original battle.
The Hittite version, written in Akkadian, is a clay copy of a lost silver original. In the text, the two sides finally agree to stop invading each other’s land.
What’s more, is that they even promised to come to each other’s aid in the event of attack from a third party. And they also agreed to extradite the other’s political refugees,
For those coming from Ankara, you will first need to take a bus headed to Çorum, the provincial capital. But before the final stop, get off at a town called Sungurlu. The ride takes just a couple of hours from Ankara.
I took a Kamil Koç bus which departed from Ankara’s main bus terminal at 11:00.
While there’s normally supposed to be a minibus to Boğazkale, no buses were running at the time of my visit due to the pandemic. This left taxi as the only option, allowing for a good opportunity to squeeze in a visit to Alaca Höyük on the way.
You should find taxi drivers waiting in the Sungurlu bus terminal parking lot. And while they don’t speak much English, they’ll immediately understand that you want to see Hittite stuff.
You should be able to arrange a ride from Sungurlu to Alaca Höyük and then onto Boğazkale for around 200-250 TL (as of 2020. Prices might be higher during your visit due to inflation). This includes roughly 60-70 km of driving and waiting time at Alaca Höyük.
While you may be able to haggle it down for less, these guys know you have no other options in a small town like Sungurlu.
There are a surprising number of hotels in Boğazkale. But if you’re a budget traveler, you’ll notice that prices are higher than many other parts of Turkey.
I ended up choosing Baskent Demiralan Hotel which I’d recommend to other travelers. It was one of the cheaper hotels in town, and I paid 140 TL (about $18) for one night, which included breakfast.
The room was spacious and clean, but the wifi did not work at all.
While not exactly in the town center, the location is the best one can hope for when it comes to touring the ruins, as it’s easily walkable from both Yazılıkaya and Hattusa.
While the staff didn’t speak much English, they were friendly and helpful when it came to booking a taxi back to Sungurlu the following day.
For those who want to see all of the Hittite ruins in the area of Boğazkale without spending more time than necessary, two days and one night should suffice.
Arriving at Sungurlu from Ankara, arrange for a taxi driver to take you to Alaca Höyük and then onto Boğazkale from there. Then upon checking into your hotel, walk to the center of town to see the Boğazköy Museum before it closes in the evening (19:00 at the time of my visit, though this may vary by season).
As mentioned above, Boğazkale features two archaeological sites: Hattusa, the large capital city area, and Yazılıkaya, an open-air temple area featuring rock carvings. Hattusa opens from 10:00 am while Yazılıkaya is open earlier in the morning, so that’s where you should start.
You can then walk a few kilometers over to Hattusa and begin exploring. While most Turkish visitors get around the site by car, it’s all walkable if you’re reasonably fit.
Finishing up with the site in the afternoon, you can have your hotel arrange a taxi back to Sungurlu, upon which you can catch a bus back to Ankara, arriving by evening.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.