The Rampart of Yerkapı, Sphinxgate

The highest and southernmost point in the city fortifications is marked by the articificial ridge of Yerkapı. The city wall, which arches up toward the summit from the Lion Gate in the west and the King's Gate in the east, crowns the ridge, with the Sphinx Gate located just at the center.


Aerial view of the rampart at Yerkapı, as seen from south


The great rampart here takes its name Yerkapı ( = gate in the earth) from the only postern which you can actually walk through today in Hattusha. Until now 12 such tunnels under the fortification walls of Hattusha are known. The function of these posterns remains open to interpretation. They may have been used as sally ports, through which one could run out and attack the besieging enemy from the rear.


The exterior of the postern at Yerkapı,
with the Sphinx Gate above

On either side, narrow staircases led to
the top of the Yerkapı rampart




The great rampart (250 m long on a foundation a good 80 m across) stands some 30 m high on the exterior, which was-in contrast to the interior-paved with a layer of stone. At either end of the stone-covered slope a steep flight of steps led up to the crown, still another proof that this wall was not constructed mainly on the principle of defense. Well trained soldiers, moreover, could certainly have clambered up the slope here at a run; it rises at an angle of only 35 degrees. At any rate, an enemy force would not likely have chosen to storm the city from here when only a short distance to the right and the left the wall below the defense circuit was considerably lower. The paved rampart must have been erected primarily as an architectural monument, a manifestation of the city's might and/or religious significance. From afar the high ridge with its crown of city walls and towers would have gleamed white in the landscape, a impressive landmark to travelers and guests approaching from the south.

At the middle of the stretch of city wall across the artificial ridge of Yerkapı stands the Sphinx Gate. In contrast to the other grand city gates, it is not flanked by towers, but passes directly through a tower. It takes its name from the four sculpted sphinxes that once adorned the great blocks on either side of the doorways. Sphinxes are heterogenous creatures with a human head and the body of a lion. The Hittites must have adopted the sphinx from Egypt, where the Sphinx represented a King. The soft facial contours of Hittite sphinxes, however, suggest that they represent females.


The sphinx from the east of the inner doorway
of the Sphinx Gate on top of Yerkapı