Ploutonion at Hierapolis

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Ploutonion, also known as Pluto's Gate, was a religious location devoted to the Greek god Pluto in the ancient city of Hierapolis near Pamukkale in the Denizli Province of modern-day Turkey. The cult-center is situated between the Roman theatre of Hierapolis and a nymphaeum. It is a complex of structures frequently called the temple of Apollo and the Plutonium i.e. the sanctuary of the Greek god of the underworld. However, the actual function of the cavern labelled as "the Plutonium" is much more complex and far from certain.


This sanctuary-shrine is also frequently called the "New Plutonium" for conventional reasons to distinguish it from another cavern-shrine identified in the sixties as the "Ploutonion", located some 200 meters to the west.

Italian archaeologists uncovered the Ploutonion in 1965 and shared their findings in reports over the following decade. In 1998 CE, a geologist named Luigi Piccardi, who worked for the Italian National Research Council, conducted research on the site and concluded that the Ploutonion and nearby Apollo's Oracle of Hierapolis were constructed intentionally on a seismic fault that was revered as the "Gateway of Hades".

In 2013 CE, Professor Francesco D'Andria from the University of Salento led a team of Italian archaeologists to further explore the site. As part of a restoration project, a replica of the marble statue of Hades and Cerberus was restored to its original location, where it was known to have been in ancient times.

The precise age of the Ploutonion site is not currently known. However, it is believed that the nearby city of Hierapolis was established approximately in 190 BCE by Eumenes II, the King of Pergamum. According to archaeological findings, the Ploutonion site was in use until the fourth century CE, after which it became a site that was visited occasionally by people for the next 200 years. However, in the sixth century CE, the temple was destroyed by earthquakes.

Ancient Accounts

circa 190 BCE

The Ploutonion was described by several ancient writers including Strabo, Cassius Dio and Damascius. The ancient historian Strabo described the gate as follows: "Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell". Cassius Dio was the the first and last ancient source to mention the existence of a "viewing"-structure over the Plutonium. He used the word θέατρον, that literally translates as ”a place for viewing”.


circa 190 BCE

Statue of Hades and Cerberus
Above the rectangular pit, on the northern side of the theatron, a replica of the colossal statue of Hades, god of the Underworld and his three headed dog Cerberus (Kerberos) has been placed in its original setting. The original is not preserved and displayed in the Hierapolis Museum.

circa 190 BCE

Entrance and the Dedicatory Inscription
Directly below the platform carrying the staues of Hades or Pluto and his dog Cerberus, in the entrance to the natural cave from which the toxic gases and water flows. The entrance to the cave, which is the source of water flowing into the rectangular basin like structure, was decorated by the arch and framed by semi-columns. Directly above this arched entrance a Greek dedicatory inscription was discovered; which reads "”Ploutoni kai Kore". The inside of the Plutonium is a subterranean chamber, totally dark but very humid, with a warm, carbonate-rich stream flowing below.

Old Ploutonion

circa 190 BCE

Identified in the 1960s, the cavern is located just south-east of the Temple of Apollo. Daria de Bernardi Ferrero described this entrance as leading to a cave that is full of hot water and noxious fumes. Several factors were taken into account to identify this cave as the Plutonium, including high levels of carbon dioxide inside, its closeness to the temple, and some writings that confirmed its past use for oracular activities.

Despite efforts to identify the Plutonium cave based on factors such as its location and historical accounts, there were still some unresolved issues, such as the absence of a theater above the cave as mentioned by Cassius Dio and the lack of any direct inscription linking it to Pluto. Nonetheless, a sign indicating the location of the Plutonium was erected next to the Temple of Apollo in 1970 CE, and the entrance to the cave was sealed off for safety reasons to prevent uninformed or curious tourists from accidentally entering.

During the excavations the interior of the ”Old Plutonium” was found to be filled with votive offerings to a female deity, related to the natural world, most possibly first known as Kybele, and then as Persephone.

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