Monday, August 20, 2012

In Hittite lands: Yazilikaya and Alaca Hoyuk

Yazilikaya (the written rocks), National sanctuary of the Hittite Empire

Yazilikaya (Hattusas), a famous rock-cut relief depicting a procession of 12 Gods  in Hittite robes; possibly a representation of the calendar Gods symbolizing the 12 months of the Year - (Photo by Author)
                Located a short distance from Hattusas, Yazilikaya (the “inscribed rocks”) was the official temple and sanctuary of the Hittite empire. It consists of several rock-cut chambers carved around a large rocky outcrop possessing two large alcoves and an open-air sanctuary. Both alcoves contain reliefs of Gods and Goddesses in a parade, all appearing by profile. It is possible that some of the smaller alcoves were used for burial of the deceased Kings, and that the whole sanctuary was therefore a funerary monument built to celebrate some Royal ancestors.

One notable relief depicts a King (perhaps Tudhaliya IV or III) greeted by the God Sharruma. Other depictions include representations of the Sword-God and the 12-Gods believed to symbolize the 12 months of the year. All of the figures portrayed in the sanctuary at Yazilikaya are wearing long robes and a kind of conical headdress somehow similar to priestly head-dresses one finds amongst the Phrygians and the ancient kingdom of Commagene (which only made their appearance many centuries later)

Another of the bas-reliefs decorating the rock-cut temple of Yazilikaya.  The figure portrayed here was probably a king. The style of the reliefs was clearly influenced by neighboring Mesopotamia and Sumer - (Photo by Author)
Alaca Hoyuk, the Riddle of the Sphinx Gate

                Alaça Hoyuk, located some 25 Km from Hattusas, was a major city of Hatti and the Hittite empire. Alaça Hoyuk was apparently settled already in the Neolithic period, with the earliest monumental remains belonging to to a number of “royal” or princely graves dated to 2,350 BC.  Just like nearby Hattusas, the site fell victim to a devastating fire by 1,200 BC, but unlike Hattusas was later resettled in Phrygian times.

The most famous monument is the so-called “Sphinx gate”, built in Egyptian style possibly by 1,450 BC. This was a monumental gateway to the ancient city also consisting of a massive polygonal wall decorated with bas-reliefs on its outer side. Carvings include a king and queen worshipping the sacred bull, priests, jugglers, charioteers and a rather odd depiction of a man climbing a ladder towards a circular ring standing freely in space. On the two orthostats are depictions of human-headed Sphinxes wearing a kind of Egyptian headdress, with the two-headed Eagle to symbolize Royal power. One of the most striking features is however the impressive polygonal wall running on the interior side of the Gate: consisting of huge andesite stones weighing well over 5 tons, it also bears an uncanny resemblance to Inca stone masonry architecture…One wonders whether this wall may actually predate construction of the gate by the Hittites.

The Sphinx gate of Alaca Hoyuk. The two sphinxes which were originally intended to support the gate are reminescent of both Egypt and Mesopotamia. A set of very beautiful reliefs including depictions of sacrifice and religious ceremonies once decorated the outside of the gate (the originals are now in the Anatolian Civilization Museum in Ankara)
A close-up of one of the sphinxes, itself a massive megalith  of some 20 tons and over  3 meters high.  The headdress is typically Egyptian, while the general posture reminds of Mesopotamia - (Photo by Author)
One of the most interesting details is this representation of a two-headed eagle, itself a symbol of royal power - (Photo by Author)
Exact reproductions of the original bas-reliefs decorating the outside of the Sphinx gateway have been put in their original position. One of the most striking and enigmatic scenes depicts a figure climbing a ladder which is apparently suspended in the air - (Photo by Author)
A detail of the massive polygonal wall that can be seen on the inside of the gate of Sphinxes. It bears a striking resemblance to Inca masonry in Cuzco and Sachsaywaman. Also in this case, as with the largest megalithic layers of the Great Temple of Hattusas, the stone used is a kind of igneous rock similar to andesite, which differs significantly both in texture and finishing from any other construction on the site as if belonging to a wholly different epoch. - (Photo by Author)
After bypassing the Sphinx gate, one is led through a large paved road towards the great Temple, still mostly unexcavated. Only a few large megalithic blocks remain, also bearing cup-marks and drill holes as most stones in Hattusas.

Also in Alaça Hoyuk one finds a vaulted underground tunnel of unknown function (it has been suggested it also was used as a poterne in case of siege), which is almost L-shaped and cannot therefore have served any astronomic purpose.   

This giant collapsed trilithon is almost all that remains of what was probably a door to the main Temple of Halaca Hoyuk, which must have been similar to the Great Temple of Hattusas - (Photo by Author)
Mysterious cup-marks cover the upper surface of the trilithon and most of the sorrounding stones. These are larger and cruder than those found in Hattusas and were most likely the product of chiselling rather than drilling - (Photo by Author)
The inner entrance to the underground tunnel in Alaca Hoyuk. After a few meters, the tunnel makes an abrupt L-turn and deviates to the left towards a long vaulted corridor ending at some point beneath the walls. The main access to the tunnel is through a cross-shaped room which was originally covered by a vault - (Photo by Author)
Another interesting feature of the site are several early-bronze age tombs, taking the shape of large rectangular pits which have been remarkably reconstructed and preserved in-situ, including remains of sacrificed bulls and cattle. These tombs have yielded a number of artifacts and funerary objects, including several bronze and copper “standards” and “Sun-disks” with an intricate geometric carving and figures of stags (whose ultimate function also remains unknown, even though they were probably used in processions or at the top of a pole as a kind of standards)

There is also a small, yet fascinating museum on the site (the originals of the Hittite bas-reliefs carved on the outside of the Sphinx gate are now on exhibit in the Anatolian Civilization Museum in Ankara, with the exception of the two Sphinx statues which are still in their original position). 

Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, late-Hittite reliefs depicting a procession of dignitaries and soldiers  (originally from Karkemish, near present day Syria) - (Photo by Author)
Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, one of the mysterious hittite Sun-disks (originally from Alaca Hoyuk) with a typical grid-like pattern and stags ornamentations - (Photo by Author)
Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, a hittite ceremonial standard (originally from Alaca Hoyuk) depicting stags with innaturally long horns - (Photo by Author)
Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations , one of very few hittite golden objects.  This small gold vessel contains an elaborate ornamentation, including triangles and a swastika - (Photo by Author)
Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations , original bas relief  from Hattusas' King's gate depicting a marching God or King (probably Tudhaliya) wearing a kilt and a helm or ceremonial headdress - (Photo by Author)
Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, large hittite boundary stone with hieroglyphic inscription in Luwian characters - (Photo by Author)
Bogazkoy (Hattusas), Archaeological Museum, one of the two sphinx-statues decorating the Sphinx gate on top of the Yerkapi pyramid in Hattusas. The style of sculpture is also closely reminescent of Mesopotamia and Egypt - (Photo by Author)

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