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A Bit-hilani (Akkadian: Bīt-Ḫilāni, meaning 'house of pillars') is an ancient architectural type of palace. It seems to have become popular at the end of the tenth and during the ninth century BCE during the early Iron Age in northern Syria although it may have originated as early as the Bronze Age. Contemporary records call it a Hittite-style palace, probably after the Neo-Hittite kingdoms of northern Syria.

Individual examples[edit]

Entrance of the National Museum Aleppo, a reconstruction of the entrance to Kapara's palace at Tell Halaf

The oldest excavated building described as Hilani by its excavator Sir Leonard Woolley is a palace[1] in level IV at Alalakh dated to the 15th century BCE. The palace is thought to have been built by Niqmepa, a son of Idrimi of the royal family of the Amorite state of Yamhad based in Halab.

A building at the citadel (Büyükkale) of the Hittite capital Hattusa may also have been of the hilani type.[2] As most of the structures on the citadel underwent considerable rebuilding during the reign of Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1237 BCE–1209 BCE), it is usually dated to the 13th century BCE.[3]

Kapara, king of the Hittite[4] kingdom of Bit Bahiani in the 10th or 9th century BCE, built himself a palace of this style in his capital at Guzana (Tell Halaf). The palace,[5] with a rich decoration of statues and relief orthostats, was excavated by Max von Oppenheim in 1911. Some of the finds were taken to Berlin, and most of them destroyed when von Oppenheim's private museum was hit during a bombing raid in November 1943. The National Museum of Aleppo has reconstructed the pillared portico in front of its entrance.

Other buildings of this type have been excavated among others at Tell Tayinat,[6] Qatna, Sam'al, Sakçagözü, Carchemish, Tell Seh Hamad,[7] maybe Kinet Höyük [8] and at Emar.[9]

When claiming to have built in the style of a hilani, most builders probably referred to the pillared portico with antechamber such as:

Sargon II, King of Assyria 722–705 BCE, at his new city of Dur-Sharrukin, begun in 713 BCE. An isolated building of which not much is known yet has been located in the western corner of the palace terrace. It may be a candidad [10] for the building he mentions in his founding text.[11]

"A portico, patterned after the Hittite palace, which in the language of Amurru they call a bit-hilani, I built in front of the palaces' gates."

Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704–681 BC), claims to have done some building in Niniveh in the style of a bit-hilani. Nothing similar to a hilani has to date been identified without doubt at his palace, known today as the South-West Palace in Niniveh, finished in 694 BCE. The building in question may not have been found yet.


The major feature for a visitor would have been the monumental entrance loggia or portico with columns[12] flanked by large massive parts of the building and approached by a broad but relative low flight of steps. On one side a stairway to the upper parts would reside in one of these block like structures.[13] Straight ahead one would enter the great hall, where one would have to turn by 90° to see the throne in the far end of the hall. The overall plan of the building would be rectangular with the large hall in the middle surrounded on all sides by the other much narrower rooms.[14]

This type of design with a large central space surrounded by a double wall with smaller rooms taking up the space within the walls may be based on designs first used in the late Ubaid period in southern Mesopotamia such as the Ubaid house. Pillared porticos as gates or grand entrances were used by several cultures of the Bronze Age around the eastern Mediterranean sea. The examples of the Hittites and the Myceneans may be the best known. Through the megarons and propylaea of the mycenaean palaces the style may have lived into classical Greek designs. The late hilani of the levant may well be the combination of the old broad room concept with a Hittite-style portico. In recent traditional architecture it may have a late resemblance in the design of the liwan house.


  1. ^ A plan of the Palace of Niqmepa at Tell Atchana, the ancient Alalakh.
  2. ^ The detached building (labeled as building E on most plans) lies near the north west corner of the palace area of the citadel, between the large reception hall and the more private building in the northernmost corner of the citadel. It does not seem to have been incorporated in the court systems and may thus have served as a more private reception building. During excavations an archive was found within the building. The plan of the building[dead link] seems rather symmetrical and is more similar to those unearthed in Sam'al and Carchemish than for example the palace of Kapara at Guzana. See also this map Archived May 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. of the acropolis of Hattusa with a detailed description of the buildings and areas.
  3. ^ See the paragraph "V. The Period of the Hittite Empire".
  4. ^ Anatolian Studies, Volumes 5-6. British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. 1955. p. 82. 
  5. ^ A plan of the palace with the adjoining Skorpians Gate. Illustrations from "The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient." 5th ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996 by Henri Frankfort.
  6. ^ Brief description Archived April 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. of the construction periods the found hilani type buildings belonged to, with the oldest (Building XIII) dated to around 950 BCE.
  7. ^ Website of the excavation (in german). The Hilani (building F) was found in the northwest corner of the lower city, integrated into a larger palace complex. It is dated to the 8th century BCE.
  8. ^ An entrance excavated in 2007, formed by two wide steps framed by two posts is compared to the Bit-hilani style of the Late Bronze Age by the excavators. A restored view is shown on this page (fig.6) Archived July 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. at the "Current Archeology in Turkey Archived February 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine." site.
  9. ^ A hilani type palace (Palace A) Archived March 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. is said to lie on or near what is now a small island in Lake Assad, north of the upper town with the temples. Marked with the number 10 on this map Archived March 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. of the site.
  10. ^ Description[permanent dead link] of the site the relief "Genius holding a poppy flower", now at the Louvre, was found at.
  11. ^ Translation Archived July 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. and plans of the excavated parts of the palace of Sargon II at Dur-Sharrukin.
  12. ^ Peter M. M. G. Akkermans, Glenn M. Schwartz, The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-gatherers to Early Urban Societies (c. 16,000-300 BC), Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-79666-0, ISBN 978-0-521-79666-8, pages 368-370
  13. ^ Historical dictionary of the Hittites by Charles Allen Burney, Scarecrow Press, 2004, page 41-2 (google books link)
  14. ^ Comparable plans of the hilani type buildings at the top on page 146 (fig.1 ""Tell Ta'yinat", "Tell Halaf", "Zinjirli" and "Sakje Guezi") in Podium Structures with Lateral Access by Ilan Sharon and Anabel Zarzecki-Peleg in "Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever", 2006, ISBN 1-57506-117-1, ISBN 978-1-57506-117-7