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Hattusas (modern Bogazköy in north-central Turkey) was the capital of the Hittite empire in the 2nd millenium BCE. The city was located on a mountain slope at the southern end of a small fertile plain. It lay between two deeply-cut streams which converged on the plain (at an elevation of about 3,100 ft), forming the northernmost point of the city. The city then stretches to the south, rising about 1000 feet over a distance of 1-1/4 miles. In some places the eastern valley narrows to a deep gorge. It seems surprising that such a remote city could have been the capital of an empire, but besides tradition there were the factors of plentiful water and good natural defenses that kept the Hittite kings there.

The first settlement at the site dates from the Early Bronze Age, but no documents exist that could identify the people who built them. They lived on the top and northwest foot of the high hill which dominates the east side of the city, called Büyükkale ("Great Fortress"). This hill later became the Hittite Acropolis.

The first writing from the site are clay tablets with Old Assyrian cuneiform. These demonstrate the presence of Assyrian merchants at the city, then called Hattus, around 1800 BCE. The largest Assyrian trading center in Anatolia was at Kanesh, which flourished from 1950 BCE to 1850 BCE (end of First Intermediate Period and beginning of Twelfth Dynasty), was destroyed, and then became active again around 1820 BCE and lasted another two generations (late 12th Dynasty). Assyrian trading at Hattusas is contemporary only with the later period.

The early settlers of Hattus spoke a language with the same name. It belongs to no other known family and scholars call it Hattic to distinguish it from Hittite. Hittite is an Indo-European language and probably arrived with Indo-European conquerors, although details of this "conquest" are lacking. Indo-European names appear at Kanesh before 1850 BCE, and it is possible that the native Hattic people made up the ruling class or even the entire population during this period, but this cannot be proven. The merchants lived in the lower part of the city, which extended up to the great hill, whereupon the king's palace was probably located. The entire city was destroyed, probably by a King Anittas of Kussara sometime after 1800 BCE. A Hittite text supposed to have been written by him describes his conquests in Anatolia, noting he destroyed Hattusas, killed its King Piyusti, and cursed the city's site.

The Indo-Europeans added an a to the city's name and declined it according to their own language, giving it the nominative form Hattusas. The first mention of the name in that form is in a tablet from Mari, on the middle Euphrates, from the time of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE, end of the Twelfth Dynasty). This may be a reference to the city before its destruction.

In spite of the curse laid by his predecessor, another king from Kussara made Hattusas his capital in the middle of the 17th century BCE (Thirteenth Dynasty). Although his name was Labarnas, he was known as Hattusilis I, "The One from Hattusas". He is the first ruler mentioned in the Hittite language and one of the founders of the Hittite kingdom. A successor, Hantilis, supposedly fortified the city, building a wall surrounding the northern terraces and following the eastern valley up to the great hill, which by then was probably the acropolis. On the west it followed a side valley down to the terraces.

Afterwards Hattusas remained the Hittite capital almost without interruption. It was destroyed around 1380 BCE (during the reign of Amenhotep III), but soon rebuilt and refortified by Suppiluliumas. His conquests of Anatolia and Syria made him king of a true empire. One of his successors, Muwatallis (ruled approximately during the reign of Horemheb) moved the capital to the south "upon command of the gods", but his successor returned to Hattusas, which remained the capital until the fall of the empire.

In the Hittite New Kingdom, or Empire Period (ca.1400-c.1190 BCE; from Amenhotep III to the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty), the city expanded to the south. A wall was built from the great hill down along the western valley, which significantly strengthened the fortification system, especially at the highest section. Here, a deep moat and high earth rampart protected the city against the hills to the south, while the defenders were aided with a corbelled tunnel (Yerkapu, or "Ground Gate"), a paved glacis (defensive slope), and flights of stairs. The decorated gates were also built at this time, including the King's Gate in the southeast and the Lion Gate in the southwest.

Although temples were supposed to have existed in the Old Kingdom, the only ruins remaining date from the New. Four belong to the upper city section added at this time. In the lower city is the Great Temple with its many subsidiary buildings. The acropolis on the hill was rebuilt in monumental style as well.

In the 13th Century BCE (Nineteenth Dynasty) the city wall was further extended across the gorge to complete enclose the great hill. Reliefs and bulidings were built at the rock sanctuary called Yazilikaya, about a mile from the city on the slopes of the eastern mountains.

The city was destroyed around 1190 BCE (beginning of Twentieth Dynasty) and remained empty until the Phrygians captured the region in the 8th century BCE. The settlement then lasted through Hellenistic times, when the Celtic Galatians arrived. The city was inhabited only into early Christian times and then abandoned until the 18th century CE.

Aurelien Joly is a Tunahead.