Karatepe Fortress, Turkey

Karatepe is a Hittite fortress in southern Turkey and, along with the Hittite capital Hattuša, the most important archaeological site of the Hittite period. Among other things, this was the site of a bilingual inscription in Phoenician and hieroglyphic Luwian, which made it possible to decipher the entire Hittite hieroglyphics in Anatolia.

"Karatepe" means "Black Hill" and refers to a Neolithic ruin site in the province of Osmaniye in southern Turkey. Next to the Hittite capital Hattuša, the former fortress is the most important archaeological site from the Hittite period.

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The discovery of their remains was made in 1946 by German archaeologist Helmuth Theodor Bossert, who spent the next four years examining the area more closely on behalf of the University of Istanbul. The excavations continue to this day and are now under the direction of the German Archaeological Institute.

The results of the excavations are open to visitors as an impressive open-air museum and are among the top 10 sights in Turkey.

Construction of the Karatepe Fortress

The Karatepe fortress was built at the end of the 8th century BC by the ruler of the time, Azatiwataš, who gave the castle the Hittite name Azatiwataya. The castle stood together with the royal palace in the south of today's Taurus Mountains and was located directly on the important long-distance trade route Akyol on the Ceyhan River. The proximity to the caravan route was good for the economy on the one hand, but also dangerous on the other. The palace therefore had to be well protected.

Statue in Karatepe, a Hittite fortress in southern Turkey and, next to the Hittite capital Hattuša, the most important archaeological site of the Hittite period - © bumihills / Shutterstock
© bumihills / Shutterstock

The first obstacle for possible attackers or looters were the two rings of walls, an inner and an outer one, which surrounded the mountain with the royal house. Two monumental gateways led to the interior of the wall circle. Artful reliefs depicting Azatiwataš and his court were carved out of the bases of these walls.

The uniqueness here lies in the depiction of everyday scenes, such as a nursing mother, sailing ships or the ruler at his meal instead of the usual worship of gods and heroes. Next to the gates are also extremely professionally crafted lion statues.

Remarkable were the canal systems for drainage, which ran through the entire building complex up to the castle walls.

The key to the Hittite hieroglyphs

One of the most important finds was certainly a bilingual inscription on a tablet - in Phoenician and hieroglyphic Luwian. Since the researchers were able to decipher Phoenician, this find made it possible to decipher Hittite hieroglyphics. Suddenly, all Hittite writings from Anatolia up to the 2nd millennium BC could be translated.

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In today's open-air museum you can see the remains of the once important hill fort. Two charred ruins were once the palace and the granary. The remains of the walls with the gateways, the reliefs and the lions are still clearly visible. A 3m high statue of the weather god stands inside the gates.

Legend: The fortress of Karatepe allegedly served Homer as a model for his description of Troy in the Iliad. However, this theory is highly controversial. Just like the alleged excavation site of Troy, which is also located in Turkey and is one of our top 10 sights.

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