Among the Hittites

29th November, 2012
Ankara to Hattusa to Urgup

For all photos for 29th November, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.

Hittites. You’ve come across them before, of course, in your reading of the Old Testament, usually in lists such as Genesis 15:18-20: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To you and your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river of the Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” – and the Turnoutthelites, as the old joke goes. That makes it sound as if the Hittites are just one little tribal group among all the others – and by the time Genesis came to being written down, that’s probably all they were. But in the days of Abraham, they were in fact one of the biggest players on the field, along with the Egyptians and the Assyrians.

Today, aside from a lot of travelling – 448kms – we spent most of our time exploring the ruins of their ancient capital city of Hattusa (sometimes written as it sounds: “Hattusha”) near a little town called Bogazkale in central Turkey 200kms east of Ankara. Still today, despite the area being a UN World Heritage Site, the locals use the place to run their cattle, sheep, goats and geese on, and so we had to be careful where we walked! It was very picturesque seeing the shepherds walking their herds of sheep (wearing bells!) through the ancient ruins.

Again, like so much else on this trip, for details I suggest you google “Hittite” or “Hattusa”. The long, tall and short of it all is that the people we know as the Hittites had an extensive kingdom in central Turkey and then empire (which covered all of modern Turkey and parts of Syria down to Lebanon) from about 18th to the 12th Century BC. The excavations of the site last century brought to light thousands of clay tablets in a cuneiform script which, once deciphered, opened a huge window onto our knowledge of the ancient Near East. In addition, there are many stone reliefs, pottery and bronze-age implements to add to our knowledge.

Their capital city covered an area of more than a square kilometre, fortressed all the way around with several km’s worth of walls. Most of what survives of the city today is the stone foundations upon which the Hittites built with adobe mud brick. The mud brick has washed away years ago, but the stone foundations have survived, leaving a kind of map layout of their city. At the main entrance gates today, a part of the walls have been rebuilt in the original fashion with financing from Japan (of all places). Some parts of the walls are built completely of stone, especially around the gates. Three gateways in particular are of interest: the Lion Gate, the Kings Gate and the Sphinx Gate – each so called because of the stone reliefs and statues decorating the gateways (except the “king” at the Kings Gate is probably a god, not a king). These features on site are actually copies of the originals, some of which are in the Ankara museum we saw yesterday and some in the splendid little local museum in Bogazkale (which opened only 9 months ago). A special feature under the Sphinx Gate was a long tunnel gate of about 75 metres, running right under the stone battlements. This was only big enough to allow people to walk through single file. Other features include many temples (the Hittites collected gods and goddesses from every tribe and village they conquered), one of which was very large in the old inner city. Near this was a strange green granite stone, almost cubic, and smooth on top. It must have been some kind of cultic object, probably an altar, but the stone stuck out like a sore thumb, being completely different from every other rock in the place. On top of a high rise was the “acropolis” – the walled palace complex where the kings lived.

After scrambling about on the ramparts of the walls, I asked Hakan how these constructions compared to the pyramids of Egypt. “About 500 years younger,” he replied. That is still quite old! I could write a great deal more about this visit, and the many details, but really, I am very tired and we have another early start to explore Cappadocia in the morning. The great benefit of Hittology to biblical studies (and the reason we visited the site) is that their culture and literature places the rise of the Hebrew culture and literature in a broader context. By comparing their religious practice and literary output we gain a greater knowledge of the character of the bible (for instance, a portion of the Gilgamesh Epic is able to be seen on a clay tablet in the Bogazkale museum).

We had an excellent lunch in a restaurant in the village, which Hakan had to prearrange. It was a one-menu meal, consisting of an excellent tomato soup, goulash, pilaf and salad, and sweets, all washed down with a half-litre bottle of Efes Pilsner (came to about $12.50). After lunch, we went to see the museum and a final site, a rock face sanctuary which reminded me of the Panion at Caesarea Philippi, with some splendid reliefs in the rock. Here I found a chap using a knife to carve small blocks of serpentine stone into little lions in the Hittite style with the symbols of the Hittite Empire (the sun goddess, the weather god, the two-headed eagle, etc) carved on them. It was so beautiful that I determined to buy one from him. I found myself wishing that during our visit to the Holy Land we could have bought more authentic souvenirs such as this instead of the mass produced items. Other members of the group, seeing my purchase, then also bought pieces from him and the other craftsmen at the site.

On the long trip to Urgup in Cappadocia (where we are staying tonight), Hakan played us a Turkish produced documentary, called “The Hittites: A Civilization that Changed the World” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Hittites-Civilization-Changed-World/dp/B001139ZI8). This was both educational and entertaining, although after our large lunch and early start to the day it was hard to stay away, Nevertheless it filled in all the details of the civilization and empire and even featuring an Australian Hittologist by the name of Trevor Bryce. We stopped about an hour and half out of Urgup (which is south of Hattusha) for a cup of tea at a roadside cafe warmed by a central wood stove. It was 6pm when we arrived at the Dinler Hotel, and we celebrated Mass in a private room at 6:30pm. I was very surprised to find a number of Christian themed paintings on the walls of the hotel – there was a large Christ the Pantocrator on the wall of the room where we celebrated mass, and on our floor there is another big picture of Christ and his apostles with the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. I suspect that they have been copied from the ancient churches we will be visiting tomorrow, but it is unusual to see Christian art publically displayed in Turkey. Dinner was lovely (the food in Turkey is always good), but the internet connection is frustratingly erratic. I have only managed to get about half of my pictures uploaded. I want to go to bed now, so I will try to do the rest in the morning.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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