The fascinating ancient sanctuary of Yazilikaya: an open air shrine of the Hittite Empire

 
 
 
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Yazılıkaya (Turkish-inscribed rock) was a holy site for the Hittites, located about 1.5 km northeast of the city of Hattusa, Turkey. There are many rock reliefs in other Hittite sites, but none as large and as impressive as the galleries of gods at Yazilikaya.

The entrance to Yazılıkaya sanctuary. Photo Credit
The entrance to Yazılıkaya sanctuary. Photo Credit

It was one of the most striking religious shrines of the Hittite Empire (1400-1200 BC) and many gods and goddesses were worshiped there during this time.

It consists of two open-air chambers surrounded by natural rock formations, and access to the roofless chambers was controlled by a gateway and building structures built right in front of them. However, only the foundations of those structures survived today which reflects the characteristics of the Hittite architecture.

The gods are depicted on the west and the goddesses on the east side of the gallery. Photo Credit
The gods are depicted on the west and the goddesses on the east side of the gallery. Photo Credit

 

Yazılıkaya Reliefs 34 und 35. Photo Credit
Yazılıkaya Reliefs 34 und 35. Photo Credit

 

Yazılıkaya Reliefs 25-33. Photo Credit
Yazılıkaya Reliefs 25-33. Photo Credit

It has two chambers (Chamber A and Chamber B), and its vault was originally supported by two pillars, which are now destroyed. The most impressive is Chamber A, which contains rock-cut relief of 64 deities in procession.

The left wall shows a procession of male deities with pointed hats, short garments belted at the waist, shoes with upturned points and earrings. Most of them carry a curved sword or a mace. The left wall shows a procession of male deities, wearing the traditional kilts, pointed shoes, and horned hats.

Chamber A. Photo Credit
Chamber A. Photo Credit

 

The hittite gods Teshub and Hebat, chamber A. Photo Credit
The Hittite gods Teshub and Hebat, chamber A. Photo Credit

 

Relief of Hittite goddesses in Chamber A. Photo Credit
Relief of Hittite goddesses in Chamber A. Photo Credit

The smaller and narrower Chamber B (unexcavated until the mid 19th century) has fewer but larger and better-preserved reliefs. It is protected by a winged, lion-headed and human bodied genie placed on both sides of the entrance. There are twelve gods of the underworld proceeding towards the right on the west wall.

The relief of the King Tuthalia IV is on the eastern wall and it is the largest relief of the gallery. It is assumed that this Great King was responsible for the final arrangements of the Yazılıkaya sanctuary around the middle of the 13th century BC.

Chamber B. Photo Credit
Chamber B. Photo Credit

 

Relief representing gods in procession in Chamber A. Photo Credit
Relief representing gods in procession in Chamber A. Photo Credit

 

Chamber B relief with the twelve gods of the underworld. Photo Credit
Chamber B relief with the twelve gods of the underworld. Photo Credit

 

Rock carving in Chamber B depicting god Sharruma and King Tudhaliya dated to around 1250 - 1220 BC. Photo Credit
Rock carving in Chamber B depicting god Sharruma and King Tudhaliya dated to around 1250 – 1220 BC. Photo Credit

 

Chamber B, the niches were probably used for offerings. Photo Credit
Chamber B, the niches were probably used for offerings. Photo Credit

It was in use at least since late 16th century BCE, but most of the rock carvings date to the reign of the Hittite kings Tudhaliya IV and Suppiluliuma II in the late 13th century BCE when the site underwent a significant restoration.

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It remains a vital historical moment at the height of Hittite civilization.