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Remains of Ancient Carchemish

The remains of ancient Carchemish lie in the area between the Karkamış Train Station and the Iron Bridge. The ancient city of Carchemish, near Karkamış on the western bank of the Euphrates along the Turkish-Syrian border, is one of the most important sites in Near-Eastern archaeology. 

The Kingdom of Carchemish was the most powerful of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms that were established during the 300 years following the fall of the Hittite Empire towards the beginning of the 12th century B.C.   

The major part of the ancient site (55 hectares) lies in Turkey, while the outer town (35 hectares) is in Syria. Mines were laid after the border was defined in 1956, and excavation of the site began in 2011 following removal of the mines. 

All visitors need special permission to enter the site of Carchemish, since the area is still a military zone. However, there are plans for turning the area into a public archaeological park, to be opened to researchers and sight-seers in 2014, so that in the near future, visitors should be able to get a real feel for the ancient city by walking along its streets and entering its buildings. 

The resumption of research in Carchemish and the opening of the site to visitors will lead to new knowledge of Ancient Near East history, and significantly contribute to increasing the cultural heritage of the Gaziantep region.

Carchemish is first mentioned as part of the Kingdom of Ebla in the Ebla Palace archives of the 24th century B.C. Written records concerning it are available only from the first half of the 2nd millennium, the period known as the Middle Bronze Age, during which Carchemish was the capital of independent and semi-independent kingdoms.

Letters and administrative records discovered in Mari give information about three kings of Carchemish: Aplahanda, Yatarami and Yahdunlim, who ruled during the time of the famous Babylonian king, Hammurabi, known for his code of laws (18th century B.C.) The two cities on the Euphrates had strong trade links; Carchemish supplying Mari with wine, honey, olive oil, grains, copper , horses and slaves.

Carchemish was controlled by a powerful kingdom founded in Northern Mesopotamia by the Amorite (Western Semitic) Shamsi-Adad I, and also by the Yamhad Kingdom centered on Aleppo. In the second half of the 17th century B.C., the city came under the influence of the Hittites, who had conquered Aleppo and a large part of Assyria. 

Hattusili I was the founder of the Hittite State, and the main thrust of his expansion policy was towards Northern Syria. Carchemish was one of the strongest citadels in the region in the 2nd millennium B.C., and it only came under permanent rule by the Hittite State in the second half of the 14th century B.C., when it was captured by Suppiluliuma I. Suppiluliuma set one of his sons – Piyasili (Šarri-Kušuh) on the throne, laying the foundations for a kingdom in the Hittite tradition that would remain on the stage of history for the next 600 years.

From the mid-13th century B.C., the kingdom of Carchemish became the arm of the Hittite Empire in Northern Syria, ensuring the long term rule of the Empire. 

Carchemish became one of the strongest independent kingdoms in the region following the fall of the Hittite Empire around B.C. 1195.  The Assyrian king Sargon II destroyed the city in B.C. 717.  It continued to be inhabited through the Hellenistic and Roman periods.  

Besides the pre-historic remains found at the site, two main settlements from the Early and Neo-Hittite periods have been identified at Carchemish. Carchemish has a rectangular plan, consisting of the Outer Town, Inner Town and the Acropolis, with administrative and religious buildings at the heart of the city. The buildings are in the Hittite-Assyrian style of black basalt carved with reliefs and ornamented with orthostats of white limestone. Most of the reliefs date from the Neo-Hittite period. Depicting the goddess Kubaba and ceremonial processions dedicated to her – of soldiers, priests, people carrying various animals, princes armed with long straight swords, war chariots, hybrid creatures and guard animals – these reliefs shed light on the life style, clothes and culture of the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. The majority of the Carchemish reliefs are currently exhibited in the Ankara Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Recent excavations have uncovered numerous Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions, the most extraordinary of which is the 2-meter-high, solid basalt stele inscribed by King Suhi I in B.C. 975, and dedicated to the great king of Carchemish, Uratarhunta, son of Sapaziti. The inscription gives new historical perspective on a period about which we had very limited knowledge. Another impressive find is the 17 cm-high bronze statue of the storm god, Teshub, discovered beneath the floor in the sacred area of the temple. The statue has been dated to the 10th century B.C., and shows the god in a position to strike, in his left hand holding a silver dagger with a finely-worked knob hilt.

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