Hierapolis (Greek: Ἱεράπολις 'holy city') was the ancient Greco-Roman city which sat on top of hot springs located in south western Turkey near Denizli.
Hierapolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hot springs there have been used as a spa since the 2nd century BCE, and people came to soothe their ailments, with many of them retiring or dying here. The large necropolis is filled with sarcophagi, including the Sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius Ammianos.
The great baths were constructed with huge stone blocks without the use of cement, and consisted of various closed or open sections linked together. There are deep niches in the inner section of the bath, library, gymnasium and other closed or open locations. The complex, which was constructed in the 2nd century BCE, constitutes a good example of vault type architecture. The complex is now an archaeological museum. Hierapolis is located adjacent to Pamukkale.
There are only a few historical facts known about the origin of the city. No traces of the presence of Hittites or Persians have been found. The Phrygians built a temple dedicated to Hieron, probably in the first half of the 3rd century BCE. This temple would later form the centre of Hierapolis. It was already used by the citizens of the nearby town Laodiceia, a city built by Antiochus II Theos in 261-253 BCE.
Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa early in the 2nd century BCE and given by the Romans to Eumenes II, king of Pergamon in 190 BCE. The city was named after the existing temple, or possibly to honour Hiera, wife of Telephus — son of Heracles by a Mysian princess Auge - the mythical founder of the Attalid dynasty. The city was expanded with proceeds from the booty from the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE, where Antiochus the Great was defeated by Eumenes II, who had sided with the Romans. Thus Hierapolis became part of the Pergamon kingdom.
Hierapolis became a healing centre where doctors used the hot thermal springs as a treatment for their patients. The city began issuing bronze coins in the 2nd century BCE. These coins give the name Hieropolis (town of the temple Hieron). This name eventually changed into Hierapolis (Holy city).
Hierapolis was first excavated by the German archaeologist Carl Humann (1839–1896) during the months June to July 1887. His excavation notes were published in his 1889 book Altertümer von Hierapolis. His excavations were rather general and included a number of drilling holes. He would gain fame for his discovery in Pergamon of the Pergamon Altar which was reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
Excavations began in earnest in 1957 when Italian scientists, led by Paolo Verzone, began working on the site. These studies continued into 2008 when a restoration of the site began. For example, large columns along the main street near the gate named after Domitian, that had been toppled by earthquakes, were erected again. A number of houses from the Byzantine period were unearthed, including an 11th century courtyard house.
Many statues and friezes were transported to museums in London, Berlin and Rome. In 1970, the Hierapolis Museum was built on the site of the former Roman baths.
After the large white limestone formations of the hot springs became famous again in the 20th century, it was turned into a tourist attraction named Cotton Castle (Pamukkale). The ancient city was rediscovered by travelers, but also partially destroyed by hotels that were built there. The new buildings were removed in recent years; however the hot water pool of one hotel was retained, and, for a fee, it is possible to swim amongst ancient stone remains.
The first theatre was constructed to the northeast above the northern gate, when the ancient city was destroyed by earthquake in 17 CE.
After the earthquake of 60 CE and during the reign of emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus, a new theatre was hollowed out of the slope of the hill further to the east, using the remains and the seats of the old theatre. There were alterations during the reign of emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus. In 352 CE, it underwent a thorough restoration and was adapted for water shows.
The theatre is now under restoration. Many reliefs and statues, depicting mythological figures, have been excavated from the site.
Temple of Apollo
A temple was raised to Apollo Lairbenos, the principal god of Hierapolis, during the Hellenistic period (as can be seen on coins from Hierapolis). Apollo was linked to the ancient Anatolian sungod Lairbenos and the god of oracles Kareios. But ancient worship also centered on Cybele, Artemis, Pluto and Poseidon. Now only the foundations of the Hellenistic temple remain. The temple stood within a peribolos (15 by 20 metres (49 by 66 ft)) in Doric style. As the back of the temple was built against the hill, the peribolos was surrounded on three sides by marble Doric order columns. The new temple was reconstructed in the 3rd century in Roman fashion, but also by recycling the stone blocks from the older temple. It has a smaller area, and now only its marble floor remains.
Next to this temple, within the sacred area, is the oldest local sanctuary, called the Plutonium (in Greek Πλουτωνειον = "the place of Pluto") or Chronion (named after Cronus), or Charonion (named after Charon), a shrine to the god of the underworld. The Plutonium was described by several ancient writers including Strabo, Cassius Dio, and Damascius. It is a small cave, just large enough for one person to enter through a fenced entrance, beyond which stairs go down, and from which emerges suffocating carbon dioxide gas caused by underground geologic activity. Behind the 3 square metres (32 sq ft) roofed chamber is a deep cleft in the rock, through which fast flowing hot water passes releasing a sharp smelling gas. Because people died in the gas, people thought that the gas was sent by Pluto, god of the underworld.
During the early years of the town, castrated priests of Cybele descended into the Plutonium, crawled over the floor to pockets of oxygen or held their breath. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and so tends to settle in hollows. They then came up to show that they were immune to the gas. People believed a miracle had happened and that therefore the priests were infused with superior powers and had divine protection.
An enclosed area of 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq ft) stood in front of the entrance. It was covered by a thick layer of suffocating gas, killing everyone who dared to enter this area. The priests sold birds and other animals to the visitors, so that they could try out how deadly this enclosed area was. Visitors could (for a fee) ask questions of the oracle of Pluto. This provided a considerable source of income for the temple. The entrance to the Plutonium was closed off during the Christian times.
The Nymphaeum is located inside the sacred area, in front of the Apollo temple. It dates from the 2nd century CE. It was a shrine of the nymphs, a monumental fountain distributing water to the houses of the city via an ingenious network of pipes. The Nymphaeum was repaired in the 5th century CE during the Byzantine era. The retaining wall was built with elements from the peribolos of the Apollonian temple. By doing so, the early Christians cut off the view of the pagan temple. The Byzantine gate was constructed in the 6th century CE.
Now only the back wall and the two side walls remain. The walls and the niches in the walls were decorated with statues. The Italian archaeological team has excavated two statues of priestesses, which now on display at the local museum.
The Nymphaeum has a U-shaped plan and sits on the continuation of the main colonnaded road. The stone pavement columns and other architectural remains mark a great part of the colonnaded road which ran through in a north-south direction. It has statues and shops around it, underneath which passed canals. The road had a base covered with stone blocks, now under the pool of the Private Administration. There are two huge doors which were constructed at the end of the 1st century CE which were left outside the city walls.
Following the main colonnaded road, and passing the Thermae extra muros, an extensive necropolis extends for over two kilometers on either side of the old road to Tripolis (Phrygia) and Sardis. The necropolis extends from the northern to the eastern and southern sections of the old city. Most of the tombs have been excavated. This necropolis is one of the best preserved in Turkey. Most of about the 1200 tombs were constructed with local varieties of limestone. The extent of this necropolis attests again to the importance Hierapolis had in the Antiquity.
Most tombs date from the late Hellenic period, but there are also a considerable number from the Roman period, and the early Christian period. People who came for medical treatment to Hierapolis in ancient times and the native people of the city buried their dead in tombs of several types according to their traditions and reflecting the social-economic status of the people.
The St. Philip Martyrium was named after the Christian apostle Philip and stands on top of the hill outside the northeastern section of the city walls. It dates from the 5th century CE. It was said that St. Philip was buried in the center of the building, and though his tomb has recently been unearthed, the exact location has not yet been verified. The Martyrium burned down at the end of the 5th or early 6th century CE, as attested to by fire marks on the columns. Philip is said to have been martyred in Hierapolis by being crucified upside-down, or by being hung upside down by his ankles from a tree.
In 2011 it was announced that Philip's gravesite may have been discovered about 40 metres (130 ft) from the Martyrium.