By the Editors of the Madain Project

Hierapolis, originally a Phrygian cult centre of the Anatolian mother goddess of Cybele, was an ancient Greek city located in southwestern Anatolia, in what is now Turkey. The city was founded in the 2nd century BCE on a natural hot spring, which made it a popular destination for travelers seeking healing and relaxation. The ruins of this city, known as classical Phrygia, are now located next to modern-day Pamukkale in Turkey.

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In the Hellenistic period, Hierapolis was a center of culture and learning, home to a famous school of philosophy and a library. Later, it became a Roman city and continued to thrive as a spa town, with wealthy Romans coming to enjoy the hot springs and visit the city's impressive temples, theaters, and other public buildings.

Notable Structures

circa 190 BCE

The Ploutonion was one of the most famous sancturies in Asia Minor, dedicated to the god of the underworld, Pluto and his bride Proserpine. Ancient writers, including Strabo, Cassius Dio, Damascius, describe the rites that were performed in front of this cave, from which thermal spring waters flowed and dangerous gases (carbon-dioxide) were emitted. For these reasons the cave was considered the entrance to the underworld; herebulls were sacrificed by causing them to be asphyxiated by the fumes. The sanctuary has two basins for spring waters flanking a circular marble arch bearingadedicatory inscription in Greek to Pluot and Kore, the kings of the underworld. It was partially restored in 2014 CE by the Italian mission.

The ritual theatre, built in a rectangular plan, is the key element of the sanctuary, from which about 800 worshippers and spectators could observe the rites that took place in front of the cave; the sacrifice of bulls suffocated by the gases and the entrance in to the cavity by the eunuch priests of Cybele, the only ones able to do so without being killed by the fumes.The worshippers were forbidden to access the area in front of the cave. Running along the top of the theatre was an elegant Ionic order portico, built during the reign of Nero.

A number of notable statuatory items were found in the area; including the colossal statue of Pluto (approx. 3.5 meters in height), two statues of serpents and the statue of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the entrance. The sanctuary is composed of various buildings constructed from the Hellenistic era, circa second century BCE to the third century CE.

At the beginning of the fifth century CE, during the Byzantine period, a large wall was built in order to hide the sacred cave from view. An interesting detail of this structure is the arch through which the thermal spring waters flowed and continue to flow till today.

circa 90 BCE - 350 CE

Initially, in its first phase of construction (circa 90 BCE to 110 CE), the theatre of Hierapolis had a smaller stage with a Doric order facade, and a scaenaefrons probably on two levels. The cavea had travertine seats, and in the orchestra there were marble thrones for the city authorities and nobles.

In the second phase of the construction (circa 210 CE) of the theatre, the scaenaefrons was transformed in to a new monumental structure consisting of three orders and was adorned with reliefs with mythological and celebrative themes. The stage was enlarged and finished with a rich columned facade with marble niches. The lower cavea is re-built in marble, and provided with a circular seating plan for the nobles.

The third phase (circa 350 CE) the theatre is restored, reinforced and transformed; the orchestra is converted in a colimbetra (large pool) for aquatic spectacles, lined with waterproof mortar and provided with pipes from the filling and drainage of water.

The Italian Archaeological Mission has reassembled the sumptuous marble decorations of the scaenaefrons up to the first story. About 95% of the original architectural elements were preserved. The re-composition of the scaenaefrons made the theatre of Hierapolis one of the most impressive monuments of the Mediterranean.

circa 20 CE

The gymnasium lies on the western side of the principal street (plateia). The building is organized around a court surrounded by Doric porticos, with a length of at least eighty meters on the southern side, which has been the subject of recent excavations and archaeological study. The portico, 5.5 meters in height, was constructed at the beginning of the first century CE by the emperor, as the inscription on the architrave states. Having collapsed during one of the earthquakes in the seventh century CE, it was subsequently covered by a thick calcareous deposit. The gymnasium was one of the most important buildings in the civic life of Hierapolis, being used for physical exervices and the education of the citizens.

circa 70-80 CE

Frontinus Street (Plateia)
The principal street (plateia), also called the Frontinus Street, was conceived as a part of unitary project together with the gate in the first century CE. It is paved and has pavements on both sides. In its center runs the main drain, covered with large stone blocks. Along the sides are a number o fbuildings including houses, shops and warehouses, unified by a travertine facade that is approx. seventy meters long. A series of buildings from later periods (circa fifth and sixth century CE) invades the road surface, in this period the total width of the road was reduced to no more than eight meters in width. A thick calcareous depost (approx. two meters thick), formed through the run off water, covered the road surface. Use of Pneumatic compressors which broke the calcareous formations in to fragments, was the only way with which the street could be brought to light.

circa 80 CE

Frontinus Gate
Also known as the Gate of Domitian, this monumental gate was the main entrance to the Roman city from the west and lead to the main street (plateia).

The well preserved structure has three portals, constructed out of travertine blocks, with elegant arches decorated with simple cornice moulding, flanked by two round towers. On the two sides of the gate's facade is a large inscription (inspect), originally attribute to Caracalla though, has been date to year 84 CE. The recent research and restoration by the Italian Archaeological Mission, shows that the gate (or most likely a triumphal arch) was dedicated to emperor Domitian in the year of his fourth tribune magistrate (tribunicia potestas) and twelfth consulate. The dedication is by the proconsul (Roman governor) of Asia Minor, Sextus Julius Frontinus, famount Latin writer and author of treaties on aqueducts.

circa 90 CE

Church of Saint Philip's Sepulchre
The excavations of 2011 CE brought to light a new church structure with three naves. The church was built around a first century sacellum tomb belonging to the Roman cemetery. The tomb was the object of intense veneration. From the narthex (entrance) the pilgrims could either climb a marble staircase to a platform above the tomb, or enter the church itself, in which the facade of the tomb was on the left of the central nave.

The tomb (attributed to Saint Philip) has a facade (inspect) constructed with travertine blocks and issurmounted by a tympanum. On the facade are numerous graffiti and holes made during the Byzantine time to attach metal ornaments. The funerary chamber (approx. 3.5 meters wide and 4 meters long) has stone benches on thres sides on which the corpses were laid.

circa 90 CE

The building was found in a state of collapse, caused by earthquake. Most of the architectural elements were recovered during excavation and this allowed partial or almost complete reconstruction of the structure. The building was reached by an entrance through two side doors. The room is divided longitudinally by a row of columns that supported a roof composed of travertine blocks. Along the two long sides ran a drain sluicing theliquids in to the cloaca beneath the Frontinus Street. Along the perimeter walls may be seen the groove in to which the seats with holes were fitted, and a small channel in which clean running water was available for hygiene. Thepaving is composed of travertine slabs that display heavy signs of wear. The construction of the building is dated to the end of the first century CE. Its collapse is dated by the painted inscriptions found on the half-columns of its facade, that bear acclamations to the emperor Justinian.

circa 150 CE

Olive Oilpress
The Olive oilpress structure is made up of four basic elements. First, an elliptical basinused for the first phase of the olive processing or for the store of the paste after the grinding. Second, a stony element for the pressing of olives, that has a case for the functioning of a big beam (now lost). Third, a platform composed by thick stony slabs, for the processing of the olive paste held in to baskets. Fourth, two circular carved canals are linked together and confluent, throught a slight slope, into a big opening, for the gathering of the oil in to earthen pithos.

circa 230 CE

Nymphaeum of the Tritons
The nymphaeum of the Tritons, so-called because of the presence of reliefs of these figures in the act of sounding sea horns, is one of the two monumental fountains of the ancient city of Hierapolis. The sixty meters long facade has two short wings that housed the niches for statues. Remains of the marble trabeation of the lower order are preserved. The back wall of the nymphaeum had collapsed because of earthquakes. Systematic excavations have brought to light the fragments of figured and architectural decorations carved in marble, which had collapsed in to the large basin that opened to the street. These include slabs with scenes of the Amazonomachy and personifications of rivers and springs, pediments with Tritons, dolphins and Erotes riding fish. The nymphaeum was built during the reign of Alexander Severus (circa 222-235 CE), as the inscription on the architrave attests.

circa 250 CE

Temple Nymphaeum
The Temple nymphaeum was built in a U-shaped plan with two wings enclosing the large basin. The lower part was built of more regularly shaped travertine blocks, while the upper part has blocks of varying dimensions, clearly taken from earlier structures. On the basis of the architectural fragments it was possible to create a hypothetical reconstruction of the two orders, a lower one with exedras along the base, and an upper one with straight stretches that are alternately projecting and recessed. Near the curves of the lower order, the niches were surmounted by tympanum, conserved in the museum, bearing high quality busts of the principal deities of Hierapolis, embellished with various symbols and attributes; Selena, Jupiter, Juno, Artemis and Apollo.

circa 250 CE

Basilica Bath
Bath complex was located on the northern side of the city, out of the city gates. The bath has been dated to the third century CE, but later in the sixth century CE an apse was added to the central part and it was turned in to a church. The back wall of the building was leaned during an earthquake. In ancient times, to purify and clean before entering thecity was a common tradition in Anatolia, or they would not accepted in the city. Therefore the bath buildings were generally located at the outskirts of the city. This was an important sign of sensitivity of ancient Anatolian people about the cleaning and protection against epidemics.

circa 350 CE

Southern Byzantine Era Gate
Built of travertine blocks and reused masorny some in marble, the Byzantine-era city gate is flanked by two square fortification towers. Like the north Byzantine gate, it is characterised by a large arch resting on a monolithic architrave. However, the actual height of the door is somewhat lower than its northern coutherpart. Recent excavation and restoration work has led to the removal of collapsed masonry and ample portions of the adjoining wall have been reconstructed.

circa 380 CE

North (Byzantine) Gate
The north gate forms part of a fortification system built at Hierapolis close to the end of the fourth century CE. It was the monumental entrance to the early Byzantine city, matched by a symmetrical gate to the south. Built out of the reused material from the demolished Agora, it is flanked by two square towers. The gate is charcterised by an elegant relieving arch that is decorated with a circle enclosing a cross-like symbol. Christian symbols also appear on the architrave of the facade of the gate. Four large marble brackets with heads of lions, head of a panther and of a gorgon, belonging to earlier buildings, were found in front of the gate during excavation and restoration efforts. These were reused as apotropic elements on the two sides of the gate, so as to ward off evil influence.

circa 410 CE

Martyrion of Saint Philip
The church with an octagonal core was built at the beginning of the fifth century CE on the summit of the hill. This is probably where, according to tradition, the apostle Philip was martyred.

The building was an eight-sided central room surmounted by a wooden cupola. From each of the eight sides of the central space there was access to a rectangular room through three arches supported by marble columns with capitals decorated with acanthus leaves. The shape of the central room is a reference to the number eight (the symbol of infinity) which symbolises eternity. The church is situated inside a square composed of 28 rooms for housing pilgrims which were accessed from the outside. As in other Byzantine sanctuaries associated with healing powers (e.g. that of saints Cosmas and Damian in Constantinople and elsewhere), in these rooms incubation rites were practised. During sleep, the saint cured the sick and made prophecies concerning the future.


circa 200 BCE - 450 CE

The Hierapolis necropolis stretches for more than 2 kilometers along the main colonnaded road, beyond the meadow and outside the city walls. It is located on both sides of the road that leads to Phrygian Tripolis and Sardis, as well as the road that goes south from Laodikya to Closae. The tombs in the necropolis have been excavated and it covers the northern, eastern, and southern parts of the old city.

The necropolis in question is among the most well-maintained ones in Turkey. The majority of the approximately 1,200 tombs were built using local types of limestone, although some were made from marble. While most of the tombs originate from the late Hellenic era, there are also a significant number from the Roman and early Christian periods. The deceased individuals buried in the necropolis were either locals from Hierapolis or people who visited the city for medical treatment. The tombs are of various types, constructed based on the social and economic status and traditions of the deceased.

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