About a league to the north of the
river Lycus, are the remains of Hierapolis, mentioned by saint
Paul, in his epistle to the Colossians, which had its name from
the great number of temples that were antiently in the city; it is now
called Pambouk-Kalefi (The Cotton Castle): It is situated on a flat
spot on the foot of a mountain, the walls of it extending up the side of
the hill, and is about a mile and a half in circumference.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
Hierapolis is a Turkish "must see" and all tours of the country include a visit to its ruins: however many who have been there may not remember the name of the ancient town, because the location is known as Pamukkale, The Cotton Castle.
View of the pools
The warm waters here are the greatest natural curiosities in Asia; they
rise to the south of the theatre in a deep bason, and are very clear:
They are only tepid, have the taste of the Pyrmont (a spa in Germany) waters, but are not
so strong, and must have in them a great quantity of sulphur; they do
not drink them, though I could not perceive either salt or vitriol in the
taste of them to make them unwholesom. The springs flow so plentifully that they make a considerable stream; it is observed by the antients
that these waters were excellent for dying, and that the roots of the trees at this place gave a tincture equal to the scarlet and purple, and now there are shrubs growing about the hill, the roots of which are incrusted with a petrification of these waters, which might be used in dying. The water now runs in channels about three feet wide, which
are incrusted on each side to the thickness of about half a foot. The
side of the hill, where the water runs, is covered with a white incrustation, and the channels which conveyed it through the city into the plain are entirely filled up, as well as the arches of the aqueduct, all appearing like the solid rock; and I observed towards the brow of the hill some hollow parts, where the rain water has settled, round which there
are partitions of a white sulphurous incrustation, probably occasioned by
the motion of the water in windy weather; and in some parts there are
little heaps, which appear like white salt, but are solid stone. In
one part, where the water runs down the hill, it forms a most beautiful
hanging petrification like rock work; the side of the hills below appearing
as white as snow; and possibly they might call this place Pambouk-Kalefi (The Cotton Castle), from the resemblance of its whiteness to that of cotton. Pococke
Turkish authorities, after an initial excessive exploitation from a commercial viewpoint of the natural pools formed by the rocks (which are called travertine), have now placed some limits on access to this spot.
There is an oblong square building, which seems
to have had an open colonade to the bason; it is built in a very particular manner, as if it was designed for the reception of statues, and is without doubt the temple of Apollo mentioned by Photius, as built near
the lake or bason. (..) Another
great curiosity here was what they called Plutonium, a cave, out of
which a vapour exhaled, that was mortal to animals. (..) They promised to shew me this place, but brought me to
a deep hole full of water near the bason, which was more strongly impregnated with the mineral, but it had no manner of effect on a bird which I put on the water. They say the water is exceedingly deep, and that formerly it was noxious. (..) It is probable the hole is
either filled up, or that such a vapour does not at present proceed from
The mineral springs attracted the attention of the kings of Pergamum who founded Hierapolis in the IInd century BC. Its name means sacred town, a reference to a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo: the sanctuary "exploited" another natural phenomenon: a poisonous gas in an underground cave. The site was called Plutonium after Pluto the Latin name of Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. The priests of Apollo (who were eunuchs) performed a sort of demonstration of their powers by going down into the cave with some small animals such as hens and rabbits: the gas was heavier than the air and it had a high concentration only close to the ground: it killed the animals and left the priests unscathed. Turkish authorities have closed the access to the Plutonium to prevent visitors from harming themselves, as the gas is still being produced. You may wish to see Takht-e Soleyman, a Zoroastrian sanctuary in Iranian Azerbaijan which was built around a lake of poisonous water.
On the side of the hill which is to the north of the city, there is a
very beautiful theatre, which fronts to the south, and is the most perfect I have seen; for though the front of it is a little ruined, yet so much remains, that one may judge in what manner it was built; it had
thirteen arched entrances, five of which opened to the front of the area,
and four on each side in the semicircle. Pococke
Hierapolis was destroyed by earthquakes in the Ist century AD, so its monuments were rebuilt by the Roman emperors. The wealth of the town and of the whole region is confirmed by a large theatre built by the emperors of the Severian dynasty. You may wish to see the Roman theatre of Aspendos, the best preserved theatre of Turkey.
The theatre: interior
There is a gallery round the
theatre, above which there are twenty-five seats, and I suppose that there
were as many below it; tho' the ground is so much risen, that there are
but few to be seen at present: The theatre is not entirely hollowed into
the hill; and there are two entrances from the gallery on each side
near the front to the arches on which the seats are built, and from one
of them on each side, there is a descent down to one of the doors in
the front; and there are seven descents down the seats from the top, as
described in some other theatres. Pococke
Hierapolis was hit by several earthquakes after it had been reconstructed by the Romans and eventually in 1334 a major earthquake led to the abandonment of the site. Some of the Roman buildings and in particular the theatre withstood the vibrations of the ground due to the vaulted passages upon which the rest of the construction was erected.
Reliefs (the image used as background for this page shows a Corinthian capital)
The door frames within, which are of
white marble, are beautifully carved, and there are fragments of fine
reliefs cut on white marble, in which combats are represented, which
confirms the conjecture that the theatres served for such diversions, as
well as for acting. Pococke
Hierapolis was located not far from Afrodisias, a town with a sanctuary dedicated to Aphrodite and where a good school of sculpture had developed, so Hierapolis too had some fine works of art which are now displayed in a small museum. Some interesting reliefs can be seen also in the archaeological area.
At some distance from the west side of the town there are a great
number of sepulchral buildings, and stone coffins, extending for half a
mile. A hundred and sixty paces, from the west gate of the city
there is a colonade of pillars two feet square, on which there are
semicircular pilasters; it extends a hundred and fifty paces. Pococke
The layout of Hierapolis shows the typical structure of Roman towns based on a rectangular grid of streets on both sides of a long main street crossing the whole town. During the reign of Emperor Domitian, Gaius Frontinus, proconsul of Asia Minor, who had his residence in Ephesus, embellished a section of this street with fountains and statues.
The colonade leads to a building which is in a bad taste, and I suppose to be a triumphal arch, from an inscription over it, in honour of some emperor; it consists of three arches, and a round tower on each side of it. Pococke
Frontinus placed at the western end of the main street a monumental arch dedicated to the Emperor. The Romans used to define precisely the boundaries of their towns in order to ensure easy compliance with several laws establishing what could and could not be done within them: so this gate had an administrative purpose, not a military one because at that time Hierapolis did not have walls. These were built at a later time and protected just a portion of the Roman town.
Baths near Domitian's Gate and a "forica" a Roman men's room
The rooms for the baths are very spacious, and covered with arches. Pococke
The town stands upon the high cliff, over which these streams fall in cascades, commanding a fine view of the valley, and has many of the picturesque advantages which would be sought in a modern watering-place; the mountains rise up at the back, and wooded ravines offer shade for summer rambles. The ruins are crowded and extensive; and here again are some remains unaccountable from their immense proportions: in this place they might be taken to have been baths, but I still incline to the idea that they were palaces.
Charles Fellows - Journal Written during an Excursion in Asia Minor in 1838
Hierapolis had several baths which exploited the mineral springs: the major ones were located near the sanctuary and near the gate. Next to the gate there was also a large market with porticoes. Frontinus took care of some very natural needs; the men's room between the gate and the market maybe lacked some privacy, but was definitely very imposing.
At the ascent to the town there are some stone coffins
and sepulchral buildings; most of the latter are small, having a door at
the end, and a pediment in front; so that they appear like little temples; within them about half way up, are stone benches to lay the bodies on, which were also deposited under them; one of the sepulchral
monuments, which is more grand than the rest, consists of a wall built
on a rising ground, and adorned with five pilasters, supporting a grand
The road beyond Domitian's gate was flanked by an enormous number of funerary tombs of different shapes and sizes. Archaeologists have come to the conclusion that some of these monuments were built as part of a propitiatory (atonement) rite: sick (and wealthy) people who came to Hierapolis to recover their health, paid to have a tomb in the hope that they would not eventually need it. That may also explain why some monuments were decorated with phalli, a symbol of life, rather than death.
|Other ancient oracles/shrines in this web site:|
The Oracle of Delphi
The Shrine of Mysteries at Eleusis
The Asklepion of Kos
The Shrine of Dodoni
The sanctuary of Venus at Afrodisia
The Oracle of Didyma
The Artemision at Ephesus
The sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Sounion
The sanctuary of Apollo at Delos
The Asklepion of Pergamum
The sanctuary of Leto at Letoon
The sanctuary of the Great Gods at Samothrace
The Shrine of Ba'al at Baetocece
The Oracle of Jupiter Heliopolitanus at Baalbek
The Asklepion of Epidaurus
The sanctuaries of Dion
The sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina