Until recently the ancient Hittite empire in central Turkey was one of the best kept secrets in archaeology. And it encompasses Cappadocia, one of the world’s most astounding natural landscapes. The empire peaked over 3000 years ago, rising and vanishing on the Anatolian plains amongst beautiful valleys and phenomenal rock formations. In this remote landscape archaeologists are still uncovering the secrets of a culture once more powerful than Egypt itself.
Almost nothing was known about the Hittites until their language was deciphered 100 years ago yet it’s the oldest known language relating to ours – with clay tablets that are older than any found in Latin or Greek. They were prolific writers, famous for producing the first written constitution, and had an advanced criminal code which was based on compensation rather than retribution.
The Hittites were also experts at crossing vast tracts of their empire territory to defend their territory on four sides. They had to contend with Greece and Russia to the north, as well as Syria, Iraq and Iran to the south. Egypt was not far off either! What gave them the edge in battle was their superb war chariots with a central axis which could carry three soldiers plus ammunition whereas the chariots of rival chariots could only carry two.
If you are tempted to explore this fascinating area for yourself, one of the best ways to go is on foot. The Turkish government have taken care of the footpaths, creating the Hittite Trail which consists of 17 marked routes stretching some 236k across Bogazkale County to the north of Ankara.
En route are the ruins of the ancient capital city Hattusa, home of the archives from which we now know so much about this ancient people. There, not only was every law recorded, but every change in law was painstakingly inscribed on clay tablets by an army of scribes. When they had time on their hands the scribes also copied ancient texts, myths, and wrote out epic poems which almost certainly influenced early Greek works. Other cultural information such as an abhorrence of incest, strict rules of hospitality and details of bizarre sexual couplings were likewise set in clay.
But having come thus far, you will also want to see some of the astonishing natural features and ancient history of the Cappadocia region which is further south. It’s been described as ‘a geological wonderland of fantastical rock formations endlessly varied in shape and colour’.
It would be easy to spend at least a week here exploring the picturesque Red Valley, Gomeda Valley and Pigeon Valley as well as the mysterious underground city of Kaymaki and the Ihlara Canyon with its pure river and lush landscape. There is also the most famous site of Cappadocia, the Göreme Open Air Museum, a vast complex of painted cave monasteries, and the 11th century frescoes in ‘Karanlık Kilise’ a Church which houses some of the finest examples of Byzantine art.
If you like the sound of a picturesque walking tour and want to learn about the Hittites and the Cappadocia region then try this high quality all inclusive package – Peter Sommer Travels’ 3-centre 10-day expert-led archaeological tour which departs on the 5th October 2014, covering Ankara, the Hittite region and Cappadocia. Walking & Exploring Cappadocia and the Lands of the Hittites costs £2,450 not including flights.
Main Photo: Approaching the Walls of Hattusa by Ersin Demirel