This week’s adventure was to rent a car for a couple of days and drive three hours to the ruins of Hattusas and Alacahöyük, which I’d first heard about from the kids’ pottery teacher last fall (he doubles as a high school history teacher and is one of two Turks who has responded in the affirmative to my query of “Do you read books?”). This pottery-history teacher waxed on about Hattusas and how it was THE site to see in Turkey for anyone who wanted to truly grasp the scope of this country’s history and fascination.
Clearly, such a place was ripe for an end-of-year homeschooling field trip!
It was emblematic of our homeschooling year that, after we rented a car, booked a hotel room, and drove three hours to Hattusas, the kids then opted not to get out of the car once we arrived and parked at the ruins of the largest Hittite temple ever excavated. Feigning low energy and fear of sunshine, Haakon explained, “I just want to read my Harry Potter.” Allegra chimed in with a, “I need to stare at the rear view mirror for awhile and support Paco in his reading of Harry Potter because my books are in the trunk, and I can’t be bothered to get out and grab one with which to amuse myself while you tall people touch history first hand.”
Fortunately, the last ten months of frustrated-effort-expended homeschooling, coupled with our own empathetic memories of being recalcitrant youth, made it easy to agree, “No, really, please don’t come. If you don’t want to be here, do sit in the car. We’ll be back when we’re done poking around. See you when you’re twelve, and here’s a bowl of water from which you can lap when thirst hits.”
I mean honestly–and here’s a parenting tip with roots in our year abroad: you can either force them out of the car and listen to them piss and moan or leave them in the car and smile contentedly as the sounds of their pissing and moaning fade off faintly into the distance.
We opted for the latter.
The bright side of this tale is that the ruins (Hattusas has a 3 kilometer ring of them to explore) transported Byron and me to a time nearly 4,000 years back in the history of humanity. Thanks to a relatively-recent archaeological find of more than 3,000 seals in a royal archive, it is now possible to trace the lineage of the Hittite kings and queens and piece together a narrative of their civilization.
We had read books about it. We knew the Hittites not only scored a fair number of Biblical references (Abraham’s grandson, Esau, had two Hittite wives, for instance) but that these Biblical references all indicate they were still around long after the apex of their civilization, which stretched for 500 years, from 1800 B.C. to 1300 B.C. We read the signs at the ruins. We let our brains range freely over the lines of rocks that signified foundations, let them reconstruct walls long fallen, let them ogle the vast Anatolian plain serving as Nature’s Defense, let our brains tap into the vibe of “These people were ‘them,’ and we are ‘us,’ but we’re all just ‘this,’ somehow separated yet part of the same thing.”
After their reluctance to get out of the car, we eventually lured first Allegra and then Haakon towards some of the more noteworthy monuments, namely the Lion’s Gate and the 70 metre tunnel (“postern”) under the ancient city walls. Allegra ran the tunnel three times, while Haakon, true to style, refused, clutching his Potter comfortingly to his chest.
At the end of the day, after a short but lovely interlude at Yazilikaya (the greatest artistic remnants of the Hittites, as carved on towering rock walls), we retreated to one of three hotels in the tiny village and ate our dinner outside on the balcony, watching a fluorescent pink sun finally dip below the horizon on one of the longest days of the year.
The next day, we drove 32 km over to Alacahöyük, another site of Hittite ruins, one that the guidebooks presented as smaller and lesser-known. We were properly surprised, thus, when we got there and found a certain amount of infrastructure at the place (wondering at the sight of a museum and a shop, we finally realized that Turkey’s modern hero, President Ataturk, he who made the country a republic in the 1920′s, had paid special attention to Alacahöyük, wanting it to serve as a model of how archeaology could reveal a nation to itself). Like Hattusas, Alacahöyük offers up city walls, interesting gates, and the cool diversion of a tunnel; what’s more, it has a series of royal gravesites presented as they were unearthed.
And I do love me a skeleton wearing a diadem.
At the end of the two days, although the kids had made a valiant effort at disinterest and boredom, they had at least absorbed the psychic energy of these places: seen the gray stones heaved about by thousands of sweating ancestors; climbed up pyramid temples with steep staircases; stood on a remarkable green stone gifted from Egyptian Pharoah Ramses as a betrothal present when his daughter married a Hittite prince; relaxed in the late-afternoon shade of a rock sanctuary while pointing at their favorite carvings; ogled clay pots big enough to bathe in.
Lest they find themselves notably intellectually improved from this jaunt, however, we happily plugged in ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL on the portable DVD player during the ride home and dumbed them down in equal measure.
Listening to Theodore and Simon strike helium-infused harmonies to Beyonce’s “Put a Ring on It,” I leaned back, hefted my feet up onto the dashboard, and swung along,
rocking in the cradle of humanity.