Deriving from springs in a cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain of Curuksu in south-west Turkey, calcite-laden waters have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins given the name of Pamukkale (Cotton Palace).
Located in the province of Denizli, this extraordinary landscape was a focus of interest for visitors to the nearby Hellenistic spa town of Hierapolis, founded by the Attalid kings of Pergamum at the end of the 2nd century BC, at the site of an ancient cult. These hot springs were also used for scouring and drying wool. Ceded to Rome in 133 BC, Hierapolis flourished, reaching its peak of importance in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.
The city, set on an area of 1000 x 800 sq. m. was exposed to numerous destructive earthquakes (the worst were in 17 AD, 60 AD & in 1354), each of which razed the city to the ground but rebuilt very quickly.
After Constantine the Great had moved the capital to Byzantium in 330 AD, proclaiming it “the New Rome” and declaring the Christianity an official religion of the Empire, Hierapolis became a bishopric and an important religious centre of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Hierapolis is an exceptional example of a Greco-Roman thermal installation established on an extraordinary natural site. The therapeutic virtues of the waters were exploited at the various thermal installations, which included immense hot basins and pools for swimming. Hydrotherapy was accompanied by religious practices, which developed in relation to local cults. The Temple of Apollo, which includes several Chthonian divinities, was erected on a geological fault from which noxious vapours escaped. The theatre, which dates from the time of Severus, is decorated with an admirable frieze depicting a ritual procession and a sacrifice to the Ephesian Artemis. The necropolis, which extends over 2 kilometres, affords a vast panorama of the funerary practices of the Greco-Roman era.
Pamukkale together with Hierapolis are recognized as a World Heritage Site since 1988.
Calcite-laden waters from hot springs, emerging from a cliff almost 200 meters high overlooking the plain, have created a visually stunning landscape at Pamukkale. These mineralized waters have generated a series of petrified waterfalls, stalactites and pools with step-like terraces, some of which are less than a meter in height while others are as high as six metres. Fresh deposits of calcium carbonate give these formations a dazzling white coating. The Turkish name Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle”, is derived from this striking landscape.
Pamukkale's terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs.
In this area, there are 17 hot water springs in which the temperature ranges from 35°C to 100°C. The water that emerges from the spring is transported 320 metres to the head of the travertine terraces and deposits calcium carbonate on a section 60 to 70 metres long covering an expanse of 24 metres to 30 metres. When the water, supersaturated with calcium carbonate, reaches the surface, carbon dioxide from it, and calcium carbonate is deposited. The depositing continues until the carbon dioxide in the water balances the carbon dioxide in the air. Calcium carbonate is deposited by the water as a soft jelly, but this eventually hardens into travertine.
The underground volcanic activity which causes the hot springs also forced carbon dioxide into a cave, which was called the Plutonium, which here means place of the god Pluto. This cave was used for religious purposes by priests of Cybele, who found ways to appear immune to the suffocating gas.
The ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white castle which is in total about 2,700 metres long, 600 m wide and 160 m high. It can be seen from the hills on the opposite side of the valley in the town of Denizli, 20 km away.
The hot springs have been used as a spa since the 2nd century BC, with many patrons retiring or dying there. The large necropolis is filled with sarcophagi, most famously that of Marcus Aurelius Ammianos, which bears the earliest known example of a crank and rod mechanism.
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, including the bath, library, and gymnasium.
There are only few historical facts known about the exact origin of the city and no reliable sauces proving the existence of permanent settlement here in the pre-Hellenic period.
However, there are some sources indicating that after the fall of Troy, many colonists migrated to Anatolia from Greece and south east Europe in the Hittite Period. But it is still unknown if they established new cities or captured the existing cities or lived side by side with others.
As a result of Peloponnese Battle between Greeks and Sparta in 431 BC, Anatolia went under Persian domination by the victory of Sparta.
Herodotus in his Histories refers to a Phrygian border town in the area called Kydrara. The Greek town named Hierapolis was founded sometime in the 3rd century BC by the Seleucids.
The area was the centre of a local Cybele cult but in the Greek polis the cult of Apollo Lairbenos was dominant (with Plutonium, the entry to the underworld, at its centre).
When early in the 2nd century BC the place was within the sphere of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus the Great sent 2,000 Jewish families to Lydia and Phrygia from Babylon and Mesopotamia, later joined by more from Judea.
As evidenced by numerous inscriptions on tombs and elsewhere in the city, Hierapolis had a significant Jewish population. Some of the Jews are named as members of the various craft guilds of the city. The Jewish congregation grew in Hierapolis and has been estimated as high as 50,000 in 62 BC.
This was probably the basis for the Christian conversion of some residents of Hierapolis, recorded in Colossians 4:13.
The city was expanded with the booty from the 190 BC Battle of Magnesia where Antiochus the Great was defeated by the Roman ally Eumenes II. In 188 BC, following the Treaty of Apamea which ended the Syrian War, Eumenes II annexed much of Asia Minor, including Hierapolis.
Later on, the Pergamum Kingdom joined Syria and Ptolemy Kingdom and developments in Anatolia were dictated by these three kingdoms. New cities were founded, while the others changed hands. Pergamum established Hierapolis as the border city to Laodicea which belonged to Seleucids.
In 133 BC, when Attalus III died, he bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. Hierapolis thus became part of the Roman province of Asia. In 17 AD, during the rule of the emperor Tiberius, a major earthquake destroyed the city.
Having architectural features of Hellenistic period before, the city changed in to a typical Roman settlement. Under the administration of Asian State controlled by Romans, Hierapolis was ruled by the Asian Proconsuls. The importance of the place grew rapidly in the Roman period. In that period the city had advanced in all aspects and became one of the richest cities of the Roman Empire. The city attracted many Roman emperors with its natural beauty and thermal baths. The architectural outlook of the city had changed into Roman taste and style by time. There were more than 100.000 inhabitants.
From the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD there is a discernible development of manufacturing activities, in particular wool production and dyeing of textiles. Strabo xiii 4.14 refers to the hot waters which have the property of fixing colours to woollen weaves; the plant, madder root (Robia tinctorum), produced a red dye, similar to purple but a lot cheaper. In 60 AD another devastating earthquake razed the city to the ground together with neighbouring Colossae and Laodicea.
Reconstruction started under Domitian (81-96 AD). The city prospered under Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, M. Aurelius, Septimius Severus and Caracalla. When Caracalla visited the town in 215, he bestowed the much-coveted title of neokoros upon it, according the city certain privileges and the right of sanctuary. Thousands of people came to benefit from the medicinal properties of the hot springs. New building projects were started: two Roman baths, a gymnasium, several temples, a main street with a colonnade, and a fountain at the hot spring.
Hierapolis became one of the most prominent cities in the Roman Empire in the fields of the arts, philosophy, and trade. The town grew to 100,000 inhabitants and became wealthy. During his campaign against the Sassanid Shapur II in 370, the emperor Valens made the last-ever imperial visit to the city.
After the Roman Empire had split in 395 AD, Hierapolis went under the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) boundaries. During the Byzantine administration, at the time of Constantine the Great, the city showed a fast development. In that period Hierapolis became the capital city of Phrygia and the centre of patriarchate. In the 11th century, soon after Turks entered Anatolia, the city was exposed to the attacks of Seljuks. It was bequeathed to Seljuks by an agreement signed between Giyaseddin Keyhusrev and Byzantine Emperor in 1210.
But in 1354 an earthquake had destroyed almost the entire city and only the thermal waters remained in place and were visited for sightseeing purpose. The people living here were scattered through the small settlements around.
Though called the “holy city”, Hierapolis was peculiarly regarded as the stronghold of Satan, for the Plutonium - a hole reaching far down into the earth, from which there issued a vapour, even poisoning the birds flying above. It is supposed that upon a stool, deep in the Plutonium, a priest or priestess sat, and, when under the influence of the vapour, uttered prophecies valuable to those who sought them.
Hierapolis early became a Christian city, for, according to Colossians 4:13, the only place where it is mentioned in the New Testament, a church was founded there through the influence of Apostle Paul while he was at Ephesus.
Tradition claims that Apostle Philip was the first evangelist to preach there, and it also claims that he and his two unmarried daughters were buried there; a third who was married, was buried at Ephesus. Several of the early Christians suffered martyrdom at Hierapolis.
Originally a “see” of Phrygia Pacatiana, the Byzantine emperor Justinian raised the bishop of Hierapolis to the rank of metropolitan in 531. The Roman baths were transformed to a Christian basilica. During the Byzantine period, the city continued to flourish and also remained an important centre for Christianity and it continued to exist into the Mid - Ages.
Highlights of Hierapolis open-air Museum
The Main Street - is also known as the “Colonnade Street”. There are pillars on the right and left sides of the street. It divides Hierapolis into two parts stretching in north and south directions. The main street is 1.6 km in length and both in the north and south there are monumental gates. Hierapolis was built on grid (Hippodamos) plan so Colonnade Street intersects other roads at right angles.
Many ruins such as important public buildings, pantries, shops, houses belong to Roman era can be seen along the main street. On the other hand a small part of the Main Street lies under the water of the thermal Motel’s pool because of the earthquakes.
Gates were built to defend Hierapolis.
Domitian Gate; is on the north of Hierapolis and has two round towers. This gate is the best preserved one. It is also known as Frontinus Gate because it was built by Julius Frontinus (84-86 AD), proconsul of Asia Minor. Then it was dedicated to the Emperor Domitian by Frontinus. It has three openings so is also known as the three gates. One of the towers of the gate is still in good condition today.
The gate at the south end of the main street is the oldest one and was built in 65-86 AD. The lower parts of it are still underground waiting for excavation.
Also there are gates (Byzantine Gate) in the middle of the street which were built in the 4th century AD as monuments of Christianity period and are shaped like triumphal arches.
The Roman Theatre is located in the middle of Hierapolis and is very well preserved. It was built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian in 2nd century AD. In Emperor Severus period the cavea and the stage of theatre were restored by using the remains of another old theatre built earlier on the north of the city. Roman Theatre had a capacity of 8.500 – 10.000 spectators and was divided into two parts of seats, upper and lower, by a diazoma.
People arranged concerts, religious ceremonies, competitions in this theatre. In the friezes of the theatre some mythological scenes had been depicted.
The Temple of Apollo. Apollo was the most important god for local people. An honorary temple was built in front of the theatre for him. Because of the rock mass at the back of the temple which was excavated it assumed that there were large steps to reach the temple of Apollo.
Doric style marble columns which have higher quality than main street columns were used for the temple. Local people believed that Apollo and Artemis met here. A prediction centre and the gate to the hell have been also found near the temple.
The Temple of Apollo that survives in ruins today dates from the 3rd century AD, but its foundations date from the Hellenistic period.
Plutonium is the oldest place worshipped by the local people in Hierapolis ancient city. The temple of Apollo was built beside of it because plutonium had religious importance.
Though called the “holy city”, Hierapolis was peculiarly regarded as the stronghold of Satan, because of Plutonium - a hole reaching far down into the earth, from which there issued a vapour, even poisoning the birds flying above. It is supposed that upon a stool, deep in the Plutonium, a priest or priestess sat, and, when under the influence of the vapour, uttered prophecies valuable to those who sought them.
This hole is large enough to be entered by a person. The poisonous gas (Carbon Dioxide) comes out from plutonium and it was believed to be sent by Pluto, the god of underworld. Birds and oxen that approached to plutonium died immediately.
The religious men mentioned to the local people that they were created in a superlative position because they entered to hole by a breath control and came out of it alive. So all locals believed and obeyed them.
During the 4th century the Christians filled the Plutonium with stones, thus giving evidence that the paganism had been entirely supplanted by the church.
Monumental Fountain was built at the end of 2nd century AD in front of the temple of Apollo and large stone blocks and marble slabs were used for construction. It had originally 2 floors but today just back and side walls are standing. This monumental fountain known as Nymphaeum and it conveyed water to the houses trough a special distribution system. Nymphs used to live in the forests or in water and did not show themselves to humans.
When they became angry with humans they used to cut off their water supply and cause droughts. So nymphaeum was built to show gratitude and to gain favour of the nymphs.
Great Baths which has the plan of typical Roman Baths were built after the earthquake occurred in Nero Time.
It includes adjacent rooms containing pools. In the second section of the baths a palaestra locates where athletic and gymnastic activities were held.
The rooms were built parallel to each other and they were heated with fireplaces. First room was cold room which was known as Frigidarium, then 2nd was the tepid room which was known as Tepiderium and at last was the hot room which was known as Caldarium. Marble slabs were used to decorate walls.
Roman Baths were built in the 3rd century AD. Classical architectural features which have large stone blocks were used in the construction.
When the effects of Christianity had increased and accepted by everyone in Hierapolis in the 4th century AD, Roman baths were converted into a church.
The pedestals are carved by Christianity symbols such as crosses etc. Walls were covered with marble slabs originally. Except from this converted church there are couples of more churches in Hierapolis.
Agora means marketplace and place of public assembly. This big open market was set up near the Roman baths in Hierapolis. Local public meetings were also held here.
Archaeologists found some inscriptions which have given some important information about the social life of the city in this agora. Agora area was surrounded by shops.
Necropolis - a large burial site, which was located outside the settlement.
Necropolis of Hierapolis is one of the widest burial places in ancient Anatolia. It has three different sections: northern, southern and western. The northern one is the largest in Hierapolis with more than 1200 graves. There are 4 different types of graves here which belong to the late Hellenistic, Roman and Eastern Roman periods. Even though Hierapolis was not a big settlement, its Necropolis occupied a considerable space because being a treatment centre it attracted huge amount of patients who came to benefit from the thermal baths and some of them spent their last days here and when died were buried at the local necropolis. This necropolis was also used by the population of nearby settlements.
Tumulus Type Graves were round in plan and were large in size. They were mounds raised over the graves with grave rooms accessible through the small doors. Tumulus graves look like small hills from outside.
Sarcophagi type of graves were made of marble, presented large decorated coffins and belonged to the upper social class. Sarcophagus in Greek means “flesh eating”. Sarcophagi stand on ground, on a podium, or on top of a cell.
Public Graves were underground burials where ordinary rank & files were buried. They were generally of a box shape.
Family type graves: the size of family graves depended on the size of the family. Those graves might be in use for generations and had a space for big amount of deceased. They comprised of several burial rooms with small windows and were roof covered.
Only sarcophagi were made of marble; the others were made of limestone. Each tomb had an inscription indicating the name, social status, occupation of a deceased and some of them – a poetic epitaph.
Martyrium of Saint Philip the Apostle. This Martyium was constructed in the name of Saint Philip, one of Christ’s twelve disciples, in the 5th century AD. It is believed that Saint Philip was martyred here in 80 AD and is buried in the centre of the building. He and his daughter contributed greatly to the spreading of Christianity in Hierapolis. The arches of the eight individual chapels are marked with crosses and the views from here are amazing.
The Christian monuments of Hierapolis, erected between the 4th and the 6th centuries, constitute an outstanding example of an Early Christian architectural group with a cathedral, baptistery and churches. The Martyrium of Saint Philip is the most important monument and is situated outside the north-west wall of the city. It was not a church but was used for religious ceremonies. At the top of a monumental stairway, the octagonal layout of the building is remarkable because of its ingenious spatial organisation. Radiating from the central octagon are chapels, polygonal halls and triangular rooms, which combine to culminate in a square structure encircled by rectangular cells bordered with porticoes.
Main Historical Sites & Destinations Around Izmir & Kusadasi
♦ The Archaeological Museum of Izmir exhibits an impressive collection of pre-Roman and Roman artefacts recovered from area
excavations, including Bergama, Iasos, Bayrakli and Izmir's Agora… more
♦ Ephesus Open Air Museum - contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated… more
♦ Ephesus Archaeological Museum was reopened in November 2014 after extensive renovations. It houses finds from the nearby
Ephesus excavation site… more
♦ Basilica of St. John was built in the 6th century AD, under emperor Justinian I, over the supposed site of the apostle's tomb. It was
modelled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople… more
♦ Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 137 m x 69 m with 127 marble pillars each 18 m high. The temple earned the city the title Servant of the Goddess… more
♦ The House of Virgin Mary. Located on the top of Nightingale mountain, the House of the Virgin Mary
Turkish: Meryemana), is located in a nature park between Ephesus and Seljuk, and is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by many tourists and pilgrims… more
♦ Village of Sirince. Once known as Kirkince, the village was built by the Greeks around 800 years ago and since the population
exchange in 1924 has since been inhabited by Muslims from Thessalonica. Indeed its habitants gave this name on purpose as they did
not want to be bothered by foreigners not to share the beauty of their village.… more
♦ The Site of Ancient Pergamum – City of Science & Satan…? Perched atop a windswept mountain along the Turkish coastline and gazing proudly over the azure Aegean Sea... more
♦ Didyma - Priene - Miletus - the three towns of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma make up part of Ancient Ionia, homeland of many of the ancient world’s greatest artistic and scientific minds, and each endowed with haunting ruins... more
♦ Pamukkale & Ancient Hierapolis. Deriving from springs in a cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain of Curuksu in south-west
Turkey, calcite-laden waters have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced
basins given the name of Pamukkale (Cotton Palace)... more
♦ Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. The site has been sacred since as early as 5.800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops... more