Central Turkey's Four Capitals - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Central Turkey's Four Capitals June 6, 2000
Text and Photographs by Mark Rose

Like many archaeology and travel enthusiasts, I'd seen coastal Turkey and Istanbul--enjoying the ancient sites and modern culture--but until last October central Anatolia was terra incognita. So I jumped at the chance to tour the region's various sites with Ankara, Turkey's capital city, as a starting point. The itinerary was an archaeological road trip, stopping at major Hittite sites, including Hattusas, the Late Bronze Age capital near the modern village of Bogazköy; Konya, the Seljuk capital; and Gordion, the Phrygian capital. Along the way, we'd visit Cappadocia's painted churches and underground cities carved into the living rock as well as the Neolithic city of Çatalhüyük. It was a lot to pack into the ten days available, but the weather held and our driver and guide proved untiring.

(Angela M.H. Schuster)

"That great famous castle...mighty and well fortified"--So Ankara is described in the Byzantine epic poem Digenis Akritas, The Two-Blood Border Lord. The capital of the Republic of Turkey since 1923, it was in Roman times called Sebaste Tectosagum (the name refers to Augustus, Sebastos in Greek, and the Tectosages, a Galatian tribe that settled here in the late third century B.C.). From its heydey as capital of the province of Galatia there are the Temple of Augustus and Rome and ruins of baths built by Caracalla (A.D. 211-217). Built as a temple to Phrygian deities in the second century B.C., the Temple of Augustus and Rome bears the inscribed text of the Res Gestae Divi Augustus, an account of Augustus' deeds. The impressive citadel walls, probably dating to the Byzantine emperor Michael II (820-829), incorporate many ancient blocks.


A highlight of Ankara is the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which is housed in the Mahmut Pasha Bedesteni, a mid-fifteenth-century covered bazaar. Here you can see frescoes from Çatalhüyük, grave offerings from Early Bronze Age burials at Alacahüyük, Hittite sculptures from Bogazköy and Carchemish, and finds from the "tomb of Midas" at Gordion. Artifacts that Turkey recovers from abroad are also displayed here before going on to regional museums near their original findspots. When we were there, such artifacts included an immense hoard of ancient coins, sculptures found by British divers on a nineteenth-century shipwreck, and elaborately carved wooden doors from a mosque. A fifteenth-century caravansaray adjacent to the covered market serves as the museum's offices and workspaces. (ARCHAEOLOGY will cover this outstanding museum in a future story.)

Left, ancient marble blocks stand out in Ankara's Byzantine walls.

Those interested in modern history will make the pilgrimage to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), founder of the modern Turkish state. On exhibit in colonnaded halls around the plaza below the mausoleum are limousines used by Atatürk and many of his personal effects, along with gifts presented to him from various heads of state.

After two days in Ankara, one for general puttering about and one set aside for the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, we set out eastward, taking the highway to Çorum (a distance of about 150 miles across a landscape that reminded me of northwestern Nebraska). Using Çorum as a base, we explored the heart of the Hittite Empire over the next two days, seeing the capital Bogazköy, along with the nearby sanctuary Yazilikaya, and the royal centers of Alacahüyük and Sapinuwa.

Right, Atatürk Mausoleum



Hattusas is huge, dwarfing the other Late Bronze Age citadels I'd seen elsewhere. The best way to orient yourself and take in its size is to drive up to the Lion Gate and look back over the excavated foundations and standing stretches of its city wall (which extended some four miles in length), temples, and palace complex: three-quarters of a mile down and to the left are the foundations of the Great Temple (dedicated to the weather god and sun goddess) in the Lower Town; about two-thirds of a mile straight ahead is a rocky prominence around which are the walls that enclosed the palace complex including the royal archives; between the palace-fortress, the Lion Gate, and the King's Gate (two-thirds of a mile to the right) are various temple foundations in the Upper Town.

Left, lions flank a gate in the massive city wall at Hattusas.


Hattusas, seen from the Lion Gate, with Upper Town temples in the foreground and the palace complex in the center.

A pre-Hittite town and associated Assyrian trading colony at the site were destoroyed by Anitta, king of Kushar, one of whose successors, Hattusili, re-established the city as his capital in the seveteenth century B.C. From the mid-fifteenth century, the Hittite Empire was matched only by Egypt. Then, soon after 1200 B.C., the empire and Hattusas fell to the Sea Peoples, a coalition of marauding peoples who swept across the eastern Mediterranean, reaching the Nile Delta where Rameses III defeated them in ca. 1186. The ruins visible today, exposed by years of excavations by German archaeologists, mostly date to the city's highpoint.

Right, Bogazkoy citadel


As a time saver, we drove along the road that runs inside the city wall, stopping here and there to trot around parts of the site. There were few other people there, October being past the peak of the tourist season, and the immense site seemed deserted. I would like very much to go there again, at the same time or in spring, and leave the car at the entrance to the site and pend an entire day hiking around it.


Cut into rocky clefts a little more than a mile northeast of Hattusas is the sanctuary-funeral temple of Yazilikaya, famous for the parading figures of Hittite deities carved into the stone.

Reliefs carved at Yazilikaya include the sun god (left) and the Hittite king Tudhaliyas IV (ca. 1250-1220 B.C.) (right)


Not far from Hattusas is Alacahüyük, a subsidiary Hittite royal site with an impressive gateway flanked by sphinxes and panels of figures carved in low relief (these are, in fact casts; the originals are in the museum in Ankara). The site's real importance, however, lies in the 13 third-millennium B.C. "royal" tombs that were excavated here, yielding an array of weapons and jewelry along with several long staffs with stag finials, interpreted variously as standrads from funeral carts or supports for fabric canopies. Replicas of these can be seen at the site museum (the originals of most being in Ankara), along with some nice folk costumes and ethnohistorical displays. Turkish archaeologists working here recently uncovered a section of a massive Early Bronze Age wall, indicating that there is still much to be found at this site.


Alacahüyük Sphinx Gate


A section of track and rail car for backfill recall early excavations at Alacahüyük (above).

Newly discovered Early Bronze Age wall at the site (right)



To the west of Hattusas and Alacahüyük, near the village of Ortaköy, is a third major Hittite site, Sapinuwa. It took us some time to find the right road, and unless your Turkish or your guide is very good you might opt out of visiting this one. That said, it was well worth the effort. Located on a mountainside plateau overlooking a large valley, Sapinuwa is being excavated by a Turkish team. The finds are impressive. On the uphill side of the road are massive foundations of a palace or temple structure (Building A). Below the road, under a protective shell, are the partially excavated remains of a large building (Building B). The giant storage jars, still in place, indicate in functioned as a warehouse of some sort. Charred debris in the soil suggests that the building met its end in a conflagration.

Left, foundations of Building A, a palace or temple, at Sapinuwa, which held an archive of clay tablets

While the presence of an archive of clay tablets at the site indicates Sapinuwa was an administrative center, the fact that remains can be traced on the surface over an area equivalent to Hattusas shows that it was one of the most important sites of the Hittite Empire.

Right, dozens of storage jars have been found in the burnt remains of Building B at Sapinuwa.


Future Additions:

  Kayseri and Kültepe


  The Old Caravan Route

  Konya and Çatalhüyük


Mark Rose is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America