4,000-year-old Hittite texts speak of the lost cultic centre of Zippalanda, somewhere in modern Turkey. Now, new discoveries at the Uşaklı Höyüy site further suggest this was the ancient holy city.
Between the 15th and 13th centuries BC the Hittite Empire dominated ancient Anatolia (modern Turkey), the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia. The administrative and sacred heart of the Old Anatolian Empire was the city of Hattusa, in north-central Anatolia. In 1834, the Bogazkoy texts were discovered in the royal archives and a Hattusa library comprising approximately 25,000 tablets dating to the 2nd millennium BC.
The archive says “the holy city Zippalanda” was an important place where the Hittite storm god was worshipped, but this sacred site has never been found. However, a team of archaeologists from the University of Pisa and the Turkish Archaeological Mission were recently exploring the heart of the Anatolian plateau when they unearthed a mysterious circle-shaped Hittite era construction.
Has the ancient holy city of Zippalanda finally been identified?
The circular structure dated to the Hittite era found at Uşaklı Höyüy. ( University of Pisa )
Venerating The Lion God of Storms
Zippalanda was the Hatian administrative and religious centre of the Old Hittite kingdom in Anatolia.
During this season’s excavations at the archaeological site at Uşaklı Höyüy, located near Büyüktaslik Village in the district of Sorgun, Yozgat Province, Turkey, to the north of Mount Kerkenes, researchers found “a large, truncated mound” to the north of the main temple of the city. After excavation, the circular structure was revealed.
In a press release , Professor Anacleto D’Agostino of the University of Pisa said Zippalanda was a centre of the ancient Hattic cult built in dedication of a Hittite weather god. D’Agostino added that the Hattusa texts record the king taking part in many festivals at Zippalanda. The Bogazkoy tablets describe festivals and rituals being conducted at the city at Zippalanda, and they also mention a temple of the storm and fertility god “Ziplantil, Wašezzili, Wašezzil or Wašezzašu,” who was depicted as a lion.
Due to the new structure’s location ‘not far from the river that flows near the base of the battlements’, Professor D’Agostino suggests it should likely be interpreted in a ‘ritual context’.
He continues, “If so this structure, together with the other finds discovered over the years, would help to strengthen the identification of Uşaklı with the important Hittite city of Zippalanda, the cult center of a powerful Storm God, site of a sanctuary and a royal residence and mentioned in several festivals in which the king took part”.
Longing For Lost Zipplanda
Previous excavations unearthed ceramics and four pieces of cuneiform script from the Hittite era. In addition to religious functions, the texts reveal people at Zippalanda engaging in military affairs, crafts, hunting and stock breeding. Professor D’Agostino said archaeologists have now identified several structures including “a temple and a fortress”.
Iron Age ceramic jars and clay counterweights previously excavated from Area D of the excavation. ( Uşaklı Höyük Archaeological Project )
The idea that this site was ancient Zipplanda was first officially proposed in 1995 by O.R. Gurney. The light defences of the city wall suggested it was a religious site and a number of other cultic sites were found towards the sacred Mount Daha. The researcher noted that Hattusa and the Uşaklı mound were on an “ideal direct line” that links the capital city with Ankuwa and the Daha mountain’s holy shrines. These sacred sites were then compared to the records of the cult festivals held at the city.
5 parts of cuneiform tablets found in previous excavations at the Uşaklı Höyük site. ( Uşaklı Höyük Archaeological Project)
Tracking A King Among His People
The Hittite king is known to have participated in official religious ceremonies and he visited various temples during the course of the year, such as “the purulli-festival, spring and autumn Imperial festivals, the festival of the month, and possibly the hunting festival.” It was calculated that the royal train moved from Hattusa to Zippalanda over three or four days, “following two cultic itineraries.”
Firstly, the king left his chariot to make offerings to the storm god at Zippalanda, and then he travelled to worship at mount Daha. Considering the latest discovery of a temple structure at Uşaklı Höyük, D’Agostino concluded that the recently discovered temple structure “strengthens the identification of Uşaklı with the important Hittite city of Zippalanda, the cult centre of a powerful Storm God, a royal residence.”
Top image: Aerial view of Uşaklı Höyük excavations. At the bottom center, the circular structure, a further clue as to whether this is the holy city of Zippalanda, found during the 2022 excavation campaign is visible. Source: Emanuele Taccola/ University of Pisa
By Ashley Cowie