This text is a fragment of a guidebook to Hierapolis and Pamukkale: "The Secrets of Pamukkale and Hierapolis".
Lured by the glistening snow-white travertine terraces, thousands of tourists from all corners of the globe come to visit the famous World Heritage Site of Hierapolis-Pamukkale. For many of them, a walk along these terraces and a dip in the widely-advertised Ancient Pool are the highlights of the trip. However, the site has so much more to offer for all the visitors who want to see and understand it more profoundly. The ruins of the ancient city known as Hierapolis are extensive, and their far-away corners are rarely seen by the tourists who hurry through the main sights. If you want to be sure that you did not overlook anything of interest during the time you spent at Hierapolis-Pamukkale site, this is the article written for you.
Prehistory and the Greek period
The oldest traces of human settlement in the Hierapolis area date back to prehistoric times. However, little information is available about the earliest period of existence of this city, and no traces of the Hittite civilization were found, but only of the later one, of the Phrygians. A temple built by the Phrygians in the first half of the 7th century BCE became a nucleus around which a town later developed.
In the 3rd century BCE, the Hellenistic Seleucid dynasty founded the city of Hierapolis as a Greek-style settlement, on a Hippodamean plan, i.e. with a precise arrangement of streets crossing at right angles. It is believed that the official founder of the city was Antiochos III the Great, who ruled over this area of Asia Minor in the years 223-187 BCE. Inscriptions discovered on the seats of the theatre enumerate the tribes that were then the parts of the Hierapolis population: Seleukis, Antiochis, Laodikis, Eumenis, Attalis, Stratonikis, and Apollonias.
After many years of wars between Rome and the Seleucids, in 188 BCE, a peace treaty was signed in Apamea. Under its decisions, Hierapolis came under the control of the Attalid dynasty ruling from Pergamon. The reminders of this period of the city's history are, among others, the busts of two Pergamene kings - Eumenes II and Attalos II - currently displayed in the local Archaeological Museum. In the 2nd century BCE, due to its strategic location, Hierapolis played an essential role on the border of the historical land known as Phrygia.
In 133 BCE, Hierapolis, along with vast areas belonging to the rulers of Pergamon, was handed over to Rome in a will made by the last ruler of the Attalid dynasty. In this way, Rome was enriched by a city of about 100,000 inhabitants, attractively situated right next to thermal springs with healing properties. Over time, a significant spa resort developed in this location.
The economy of Hierapolis flourished because of the textile factories that operated in the city starting from the 2nd century BCE. At the same time, the town began to mint its coins. Writing in the first century CE, Strabo mentioned that thermal water was used in the process of dyeing textiles.
A large Jewish community lived in Hierapolis, whose representatives in the number of 2,000 families came here during the reign of Antiochos III from the area of Mesopotamia. At the beginning of the first millennium CE, many Jews converted to Christianity, which rapidly flourished in the city. The first Christian church in Hierapolis was built under the influence of the teachings of Saint Paul, who resided in nearby Ephesus. The most famous event of the city's early Christian history was the martyr's death of Saint Philip in 80 CE, and over time Hierapolis became the destination of numerous pilgrimages to the tomb of this apostle.
Because Hierapolis is located in a seismically active area, it was repeatedly hit by earthquakes. In the first century CE, two of them, in the years 17 and 60, almost completely destroyed the city. Most of the well-preserved ancient buildings date back to the period after these disasters. Many magnificent public buildings were erected then, giving the city a new, elegant form. In 129, on the occasion of the visit of Emperor Hadrian, a theatre was built, and during the reign of Septimius Severus, at the turn of the second and third century CE, it was thoroughly renovated.
The city enjoyed its golden era in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. In 215, Hierapolis was visited by Emperor Caracalla, who granted it with the title of neocoros, awarded to the cities that were the centres of imperial worship. The title also gave such cities certain privileges. Thousands of people then came to Hierapolis as a well-known spa, and with them money flowed into the treasury. New construction projects were financed -- two bathhouse buildings, a junior high school, several temples, a colonnaded street, and a magnificent fountain. Hierapolis also became one of the most important centres of art, philosophy, and trade in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.
The last Roman emperor who visited Hierapolis was Valens in 370. In the 4th century CE, another earthquake demolished many buildings of the city, and since then, its gradual decline began. An earthquake finally put an end to the town's existence as a significant urban centre in the 7th century CE.
Byzantine and Turkish times
On a smaller scale, the settlement in Hierapolis continued, as in the 10th century tiny residential houses stood on the ruins of ancient buildings, and small chapels replaced the magnificent churches. In the 12th century, Hierapolis was overrun by Seljuk Turks from the Sultanate of Konya. Shortly afterwards, in 1190, the troops of the Crusaders, heading for the Holy Land under Emperor Frederick Barbarossa captured the settlement. Even at that time, buildings on the western side of Hierapolis and massive baths from the Roman period served as the residences for the local aristocracy.
In the 13th century, the area around Hierapolis was again occupied by the Turks, who built a fortress in this location. In 1354, a great earthquake put an end to the settlement within the ancient city, and its ruins were gradually covered with limestone deposits, forming a thick layer hiding the traces of the once-powerful city.
The first measurements and preliminary surveys of the Hierapolis area were carried out in 1887 by a German archaeological mission, under the direction of Carl Humann. His notes were published in 1889 in the book "Altertümer von Hierapolis".
In the 20th century, calcareous terraces created by thermal springs became a tourist attraction, known as Pamukkale. When visiting this "Cotton Castle", travellers could see the modest remains of Hierapolis protruding from white limestone deposits.
Since 1957, excavations and reconstruction works carried out by Italian archaeologists have been ongoing continuously in Hierapolis. Many ancient buildings were excavated from the sediments, and then they were carefully restored. Some of the finds from Hierapolis were taken from Turkey and are in the collections of museums in London, Berlin, and Rome. Still, many valuable exhibits are currently displayed at the local Archaeological Museum.
Meaning of the name
The most common explanation of the name Hierapolis is the Holy City, derived from the Greek word hieron (temple). It suggests that it was originally a temple settlement, perhaps devoted to the cult of the Phrygian mother-goddess Kybele.
The second version of the origins of the city's name states that it comes from the name of Hiera, the wife of the mythical founder of Hierapolis, Telephos. He was the son of Heracles and Princess Auge, and the legendary ancestor of the Attalids of Pergamon.
The well-preserved building of the city's baths is one of the first ancient structures encountered when entering the Hierapolis area from the direction of Pamukkale's travertine terraces. The complex was erected in the 2nd century CE. In addition to the baths, it also includes a palaestra, on a rectangular plan, measuring 36 by 52 meters. Two large rooms limit the courtyard of the palaestra on the northern and southern sides. The north room was reserved for the emperor and religious ceremonies. Moreover, along the whole west side of the courtyard, there was a long hall, used for athletic training during adverse weather. Columns made of local limestone stood around the yard.
The palaestra was an area intended for physical exercises, especially boxing and wrestling. The term "palaestra" is derived from the Greek palaistra, from the word "pale" meaning wrestling. In the courtyard of the palaestra, boys and young men practised under the guidance of experienced trainers. The popularity of this type of activity is evidenced by the fact that such an area is found in every city strongly influenced by Greek culture.
After exercising in the palaestra, it was possible to wash in the bathhouse by going directly to the frigidarium, i.e. the room in which the cold water pool was located. Then the patrons went to three barrel-vaulted rooms that constituted the part called caldarium, with hot water pools. They were the warmest rooms in the baths, heated by underfloor heating called the hypocaust. In Hierapolis, hot water was brought to the bathhouse directly from local sources.
The baths were built of travertine, easily accessible on the spot, cut into huge blocks. The inner walls are lined with multicoloured marble slabs. After the earthquake that struck Hierapolis in the second half of the 4th century CE, the baths were renovated, and a barrel vault made of bricks was added in one of the rooms. In addition, they were decorated with two rows of marble columns, obtained from the Temple of Apollo.
Currently, the baths are fenced off and serve as an exhibition space for the local Archaeological Museum.
Nymphaeum at the Apollo Temple
The magnificent building of the nymphaeum, i.e. the monumental fountain, which was also a sanctuary dedicated to the nymphs, stands in the vicinity of the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, in the sacred district of Hierapolis. The nymphaeum, erected in the second century CE, supplied drinking water to houses in the city, using a system of pipes for the distribution.
The nymphaeum was erected on a plan resembling the letter U, in a place that is an extension of the city's main street along the north-south axis. In the 5th century CE, the nymphaeum was renovated by adding a wall supporting it, erected using the fragments of the Temple of Apollo. In this way, the view of the remains of this pagan building, insulting the sensitivity of the Christian inhabitants of the city, was obstructed.
Apollo Temple and Plutonium
The visible remains of the Temple of Apollo date back to the 3rd century CE, but the building was erected in the area where an important temple had already stood. During the Hellenistic period, it was dedicated to Apollo Lairbenos, i.e. the deity connecting the Greek Apollo with the local Anatolian sun god Lairbenos. Fragments of this earlier building, including the column capitals dated to the first century CE, are currently located in the local Archaeological Museum. In the sacred district, there were also smaller shrines dedicated to Cybele, Artemis, Hades, and Poseidon.
In the 3rd century CE, the temple complex was rebuilt, and a new temple was erected on the old podium, using fragments of the old building. It stood in the temple district, i.e. the temenos, surrounded by a wall. The temple from Roman times was supported on the hillside from the east. From the other sides, its inner courtyard was surrounded by marble porticoes, decorated with semicolumns of the Doric order.
The Temple of Apollo was built over the tectonic fault. Such places have been considered sacred since the earliest times. A sanctuary dedicated to the god of the underworld was also established in Hierapolis. This deity was known as Hades in Greece, and in Rome -- as Pluto. The name Plutonium comes from the latter term -- meaning the gateway to the kingdom of Pluto. This specific place has already been described by various authors in ancient times. It was a small cave with narrow stairs leading to it. It was filled with poisonous gas escaping from a tectonic fault, recently confirmed to be carbon dioxide.
There are many stories related to the Plutonium, mostly about the priests of the local oracle. Those priests descended into the cave to prove their relationship with the supernatural world, leaving the underworld unscathed. In order to avoid poisoning, they trained in the art of holding their breath; they also knew where the pockets of clean air were located. Believers were encouraged to buy birds and other small animals that were thrown into the Plutonium to demonstrate the poisonous properties of the cave. When the priests left the cavern safe and sound, their powers and divine protection were perfectly visible to pilgrims. Then they were encouraged to donate to the temple in exchange for receiving a prophecy.
The location of this legendary place was first discovered during archaeological works in the 1960s. The underground hole is visible on the right side of the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. However, quite recently it turned out that there is a much more impressive structure associated with the cult of Pluto in Hierapolis. This shrine, to the east of the temple, is now open to visitors.
House with Ionic Capitals
During the excavations carried out in 1998, archaeologists discovered the remains of a residential villa, located between the Temple of Apollo and the theatre. Because of the red marble columns adorning this structure, the property was called "the House with Ionic capitals". Built in the 2nd century CE, the building was once two-storied and belonged to one of the affluent families living in Hierapolis. Currently, archaeological and reconstruction works are underway, so it can only be seen from behind the fence.
One of the most magnificent buildings in Hierapolis is the Roman theatre, erected in the third century CE, during the reign of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus. The building stands on the site of a pre-existing theatre from the time of Emperor Hadrian (the 2nd century CE). It was also erected with the building materials obtained from the Hellenistic theatre destroyed in one of the earthquakes, located in the northern part of the city.
The theatre was built using the Greek idea, with the audience supported by the natural slope of the hill. The theatre audience (or cavea) is divided into two parts -- the upper and the lower -- through a circular passage (the so-called diazoma). Eight up-and-down passages designated nine sectors (kerkides). In the lower part of the audience, there is a large marble exedra or semicircular niche, in which the most important spectators sat on seats decorated with sculpted lion-paws. It is estimated that the theatre could accommodate about 10,000 spectators.
The skene building was decorated with a vibrant, three-storied façade, standing on a podium presenting, among others, the scenes with Apollo and Artemis. This facade was thoroughly renovated and strengthened in 352 CE. In the same period, the so-called orchestra, i.e. a semicircular space between the stage and the audience, was rebuilt in a way that allowed it to be filled with water, thus enabling the organization of performances with scenes of naval battles.
Southern Byzantine Gate and City Walls
The Southern Gate in the city walls of Hierapolis dates back to the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Great, i.e. the end of the 4th century CE, similarly to the Northern Gate. It was built of travertine blocks and stones obtained from the agora. Its appearance is very similar to the Northern Gate: on both sides, there were defensive towers, and above the opening there is an arched lintel. The gate has been restored, and it is the starting point of the sightseeing tour of Hierapolis for the tourists arriving at the eastern entrance.
Gymnasium of the Southern Gate
Right next to the Southern Gate, there are the remains of a gymnasium, built after the earthquake of 60 CE. No systematic excavation work has been carried out in its area so far, but it is clearly visible and easy to recognize by a row of column fragments. There is even an inscription with the word "gymnasium". It is believed that the colonnades of the Doric order once surrounded the grounds of the gymnasium's courtyard.
Gate of St. Philip
The Gate of St. Philip is located on the north-eastern side of the defensive walls, erected during the reign of Emperor Theodosius at the end of the 4th century CE. Two towers standing on both sides of the entrance reflect the critical role of this gate. Pilgrims went through the gateway to the top of the hill, where the Saint Philip's Sanctuary is located.
Bridge of St.Philip
To reach the sanctuary of Saint Philip, pilgrims had to walk over a small gorge crossing the hillside. In winter, water flowed in it, to facilitate passing with dry legs to the other side of the ravine, at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries CE, a bridge was built over it. It was a simple structure, consisting of one arch, of which only the foundations have survived to our times. Recently, the bridge was reconstructed of wood and metal to facilitate crossing the gorge. It also gives a better idea of the appearance and size of the ancient structure.
After crossing the bridge, pilgrims reached the bathhouse, built on an octagonal plan with the sides 9 meters long. The entrance was located just at the beginning of the stairs leading further to the top of the hill. The visitors moved to the cloakroom with a latrine and to the first room with cold water. The next rooms, with hot and warm water, had floors placed on a brick foundation. This solution enabled the bath to be heated by the hypocaust system: the furnace located in a separate room heated the air that circulated under the floors of the bathrooms. After cleansing, pilgrims could continue their journey to the sanctuary. The baths were destroyed by an earthquake in the middle of the 7th century CE, but their octagonal outline is still perfectly visible. Unfortunately, to refresh themselves after a hike up the hill, tourists must now go down to the pool far below.
Stairs to the top
A flight of steps was built in the 4th-5th century CE, on the south-eastern side of the hill and leading to its top. The difference in levels between the beginning and the end of these stairs is about 16 meters. The stairs were initially 70 meters long and 4 meters wide, and each step was made of one-meter-wide travertine blocks. From the side of the ravine to the stairs, a supporting wall was constructed, erected on tombs from the Roman times. In the Byzantine period, between the 9th and 11th centuries CE, a wall was added on the other side of the stairs, reducing their width to three meters.
Around the 10th century CE, a small building was erected near the top of the hill, on the remains of travertine stairs. It had a square plan with a side length of eight meters. Two entrances led to its interior - on the east and the west. It is believed that the building could serve as a monumental gateway leading to the sanctuary. Its walls, up to one meter thick, were built of travertine and marble blocks, obtained from Byzantine buildings, which collapsed during the earthquake in the 7th century. Based on the dating of ceramic fragments found in the structure, researchers determined that it was used until the turn of the 13th and 14th~centuries.
Nymphaeum at the Sanctuary
After reaching the top of the stairs, a relatively flat space awaited the pilgrims, providing a place to rest before climbing the next flight of stairs, leading to Saint Philip's Martyrium, situated on the left. On the right side, there was a church where the tomb of the saint was hidden. An ablution fountain was built in the central part of the square, enabling the faithful to wash themselves before entering the sacred space. That fountain has the shape of a pillar from which a stream of water flowed. Above, there is a decorative block of marble carved in the shape of a shell. Water was supplied to the fountain by an aqueduct from a plateau located on the north-eastern side.
Church and Grave of St. Philip
The three-nave church was unearthed during archaeological works in 2011, so it is a relatively new point on the Hierapolis sightseeing route. The building was erected around the tomb, which is traditionally attributed to Saint Philip. Pilgrims coming in large numbers to the Sanctuary in Hierapolis first arrived at the narthex, i.e. the covered vestibule. From there, they could climb the marble staircase to the platform erected above the tomb or enter directly into the church. The tomb was located in the left aisle, while opposite the entrance stood an altar and synthronon, i.e. a semicircular structure intended for priests during the liturgy.
The tomb, dated to the Roman period (1st century CE), is considered to be the burial place of Saint Philip. As such, it was greatly worshipped in the Byzantine period. The tomb has a façade made of travertine blocks, above which a triangular tympanum rises, which is a characteristic element of the monumental buildings of ancient Greece and Rome. On the façade of the tomb, one can see many inscriptions and holes, which served as the attachment points for metal votive objects. The burial chamber, measuring~3.50 by~4~meters, was equipped with three stone benches on which the bodies of the deceased were laid.
On the right side of the tomb, in the central nave of the church, there are two small water tanks, once used for ritual immersion, and two larger pools lined with marble slabs. It is believed that healing rituals were carried out here, also known from other shrines in Asia Minor -- among others from Seleucia Pieria (the sanctuary of Saint Tekla) and Germia (the sanctuary of the archangel Michael).
Martyrium of St. Philip
Martyrium of Saint Philip was the most important building from the Christian times in the city of Hierapolis. The term martyrium describes a sacred building dedicated to the martyr, in this particular case - Saint Philip. The martyrium was erected at the beginning of the 5th century CE, and its construction was probably carried out by the architect brought from the imperial court in Constantinople.
The entire building was planned to strengthen the symbolism of the number eight. It consists of a central room on an octagonal plan, which connects eight rectangular rooms. Each of them was decorated with three arches supported by columns standing on marble, octagonal plinths, i.e. the tiles placed under their bases. Christian symbols surrounded by circles are still visible on the arches. The central hall, once covered with a wooden dome, contains the so-called synthronon, a structure connecting the episcopal throne with the benches for clergy, usually placed behind the altar. The central octagonal room was surrounded by a square building with 32 rooms along its sides.
In Christianity, the symbolism of the number eight is based on the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest, embodying the earthly time, while the number eight corresponds to eternity. The eighth day is a symbol of Jesus, his transformation and resurrection, and the promise of the resurrection of a man transformed by baptism. Thus, the octagon is to symbolize the resurrection and eternal life. Baptisteries and church towers were erected on an octagonal plan in early Christian times.
The Martyrium was erected in the place where Saint Philip the Apostle was to be martyred, as reported by Eusebius of Caesarea in his "Church History". Philip the Apostle was to preach the Gospel in Greece, Scythia, Lydia, and Phrygia, where he was captured and executed. According to church tradition, he died on the cross in the shape of the letter T. Other versions of the story of his martyrdom mention hanging on a pole and stoning.
The small necropolis of Hierapolis was located on the eastern side of the city, on a slope between the agora and the Martyrium of Saint Philip, situated above.
The Hellenistic theatre in the north-eastern part of the city, high above the agora, was erected in the 2nd century BCE. It used the natural shape of the hill. It was almost completely destroyed in a devastating earthquake in 60 CE. The building material was removed and reused in the construction of the Roman theatre. Only several rows of seats are still visible on the slope of the hill.
Before the earthquakes of the first century CE, the agora was located near the necropolis, but afterwards it was rebuilt in a new location. It was relocated to the spacious area between Frontinus Street and the hillside on the eastern side of Hierapolis. The square from the 2nd century CE had the dimensions of 170 by 280 meters and was one of the most extensive agoras in Asia Minor. Currently, little is preserved from the Hierapolis agora because it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 4th century CE, and the building material obtained from its area was used to expand the defensive walls around the city in the 5th century CE.
On the eastern side of the agora, archaeologists have excavated the remains of a monumental stoa, stretching along the entire side of the square. This stoa, i.e. a freestanding, elongated colonnaded hall, had a height of up to 20 meters. Fragments of its marble stairs have been preserved, partly reconstructed with travertine blocks. This building, also dating back to the 2nd century CE, had a two-storied façade, decorated with columns of the Ionic order. At its central point, there was a monumental gateway decorated with unusual capitals depicting busts of the Erotes - members of the retinue of the goddess Aphrodite, and images of lions devouring bulls.
The cathedral, standing in the centre of Hierapolis, was one of the city's most important buildings of the Christian period. From the vestibule, i.e. the narthex, it was possible to get to the baptistery. The cathedral is a three-nave building, with the interior divided by two rows of columns. The church's apse has a semicircular shape from the inside, but is polygonal from the outside. In the apse, there were benches for the bishop and priests during the liturgy. The main building was erected in the 6th century CE, but other smaller structures were added to it later.
This street is known as Frontinus Street or the Colonnaded Street. It is named after Sextus Julius Frontinus, the Roman proconsul of the Province of Asia in 86 CE. This main street of Hierapolis divided the city into two parts and provided the residents with a convenient communication route. Hierapolis was expanded according to the rules of the Hippodamian plan, which means that smaller streets departed from the main street at a right angle, forming a regular grid. Since the road was built in the Roman period, it began outside the boundaries marked by later defensive walls, erected in the Byzantine times.
From the side of the necropolis, the street started with the monumental Gate of Domitian and then ran to the gymnasium located on the southern side of Hierapolis. Along the street, there were numerous public buildings and fountains, and it was adorned with richly decorated colonnades on both sides. The street was originally 14 meters wide.
In the early Byzantine period, at the end of the 4th century CE, two gates were erected along the street in the newly marked defensive walls of the city -- the southern one and the northern one. At the same time, the street was narrowed, with its sides built over with residential houses.
At present, it is not possible to walk down the whole length of the ancient street to the south gate -- its fragments have not survived, and a part of the colonnade lies at the bottom of the Ancient Pool. The best-preserved section, carefully cleaned of limestone deposits, is located between the Domitian Gate and the Northern Byzantine Gate.
Grand Roman Baths
The heavily ruined building of large baths from the Roman period, and more precisely - from the 1st century CE - is located right next to Frontinus Street. The outer walls of the building were erected of large limestone blocks, and the inner walls - of smaller blocks, arranged in two layers. The space between these layers was filled with soil and stones.
The bathhouse complex was severely damaged by an earthquake in the 4th century CE. It is known that in the 10th century, simple residential buildings stood in this area. In the 12th century, a large olive oil press operated here. Its tanks, made of ancient sarcophagi, have been preserved to our times.
Northern Byzantine Gate
The Northern Gate belongs to the fortification system built around Hierapolis at the end of the 4th century CE. It constituted a monumental entrance to the city during the Byzantine period, along with the symmetrically placed Southern Gate. It was constructed using building materials obtained from the agora destroyed by the earthquake.
On both sides of the gate, there are two defensive towers on a square plan. The decorative element is an arched lintel with a cross symbol. Christian symbols are also visible on the façade's entablature. In addition, four marble blocks with carved heads of lions, panthers, and Gorgons, from earlier, ancient buildings were built in on both sides of the gate. They were supposed to serve as a deterrent to evil powers.
Nymphaeum of the Tritons
The name of this monumental fountain comes from tritons or mythical sea creatures, whose figures are depicted on this building in the form of reliefs. The Triton Nymphaeum was built during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus, i.e. in the first half of the 3rd century CE. This is evidenced by an inscription placed on the building.
The Triton Nymphaeum was one of the two giant fountains in Hierapolis. It had a façade with a length of 60 meters, ended with short wings, while magnificent statues once stood in the niches of this building. The nymphaeum was also decorated with reliefs depicting the war with the Amazons, personifications of rivers and streams, and dolphins.
Gate of Domitian
The impressive triple gate, leading to the Hierapolis from the necropolis, was built during the time of proconsul Sextus Julius Frontinus and named after Emperor Domitian. Fragments of defensive towers with a circular base have been preserved on both sides. Frontinus Street, the main communication route of the city, started from this gate.
The latrines or public toilets, located just next to the Domitian Gate, at the southern end of Frontinus Street, were built at the end of the 1st century CE. Contrary to its current appearance, it was a very impressive and representative building in the Doric order, 20 meters long and six meters wide. The building is divided into two parts by a row of columns that once supported a roof made of travertine slabs. Two channels fed clean water into the latrines, and the wastewater was removed to a canal running under Frontinus Street. There are traces of seat mounting on the walls of the building.
Over time, the latrines lost their original function and began to be used as storage space. The building destroyed by one of the earthquakes that often hit Hierapolis, and some traces of fire are clearly visible.
Tomb of Flavius Zeuxis
The tomb belonging to Flavius Zeuxis and his sons stands right at the Gate of Domitian. The inscription on it informs that Zeuxis was a textile merchant who travelled by sea between Asia Minor and the Apennine Peninsula up to 72 times.
Baths/Church at the Necropolis
The impressive building of the Roman baths, erected in the 2nd century CE, is the first public building of Hierapolis to be encountered when visiting this ancient city from the direction of the northern necropolis. The baths, built of travertine blocks, were equipped with underfloor heating, and water was supplied to them by the aqueduct system. In the 6th century CE, the baths were transformed into a three-nave church and later were destroyed by an earthquake.
The northern necropolis of Hierapolis is one of the largest known ancient cemeteries in the area of present-day Turkey. Its area covers both sides of the ancient road leading from Hierapolis to Tripolis, Philadelphia, and Sardis, for a distance of about two kilometres from the city gate. To view the area thoroughly, it is most convenient to start exploring Hierapolis from the northern entrance. Most of the burials in its area are dated from the second century BCE to the 3rd century CE. Over 1,200 tombs have been identified on it, and over 300 tombstone inscriptions have already been read. In this necropolis, both deceased residents of Hierapolis and the patients who came to this spa centre searching in vain for healing were buried. Researchers divided the types of burials at this cemetery into four categories:
- Simple graves for poor citizens and slaves;
- Tumuli, i.e. the mounds with a round base and burial mounds from the Hellenistic period with a narrow corridor leading to a burial chamber covered with earth;
- Family tombs in the form of buildings resembling residential houses or small temples;
- Sarcophagi - some placed on pedestals, with the aim to raise the memory of the deceased. They were carved in limestone or made of marble slabs and decorated with reliefs and epitaphs.
Inscriptions placed on sarcophagi and family tombs helped researchers get a lot of information about the lifestyles of the people who lived in Hierapolis, but, unfortunately, most of the graves were plundered a long time ago.
Many of the tombs have accurate information boards and are marked with numbers to help with the orientation. It can take up to several hours to see the necropolis thoroughly. Below you will find an overview of some of the most impressive tombs.
This tomb, in which Aelius Apollinarius Makedon and his wife were buried, dated to the second half of the 2nd century CE, is also known as the cursed tomb. The reason is a long inscription containing a curse that would fall on anyone who dared to use this tomb without permission. To reinforce this message, there is information about a fine imposed by the city council if the curse itself were to prove insufficient.
This tomb, from the middle of the 2nd century CE, belonged to a Jew named Marcus Aurelius Philoumeno Streneion. On the left side of the entrance, there is a carved menorah, a palm leaf, and a ram horn.
This is a tomb of the Jewish family from the beginning of the first century CE. It has the shape of a house with a gable roof, erected on a high podium. In its underground, the objects belonging to 31 buried people were found, and inside the tomb, there were many terracotta urns with human bones.
The tomb, from the 2nd or 3rd century CE, is called the grave of gladiators because of the travertine block above the entrance, where symbols associated with gladiatorial battles were placed. These are paintings depicting: an amphora for oil -- a popular prize for the winner, a trident used in combat, and a round shield.
This tomb has the form of a small house on the platform. Above the entrance, there is a plate with a faded inscription, and in the interior, there are stone benches for placing the dead.
From this huge family tomb (the 2nd or the 3rd century CE), a decorative façade has been preserved in the best condition, reminiscent of a residential house with a row of windows. Through the door placed in this façade, one went to the area of two courtyards containing many sarcophagi, and the stairs led underground, to the burial chambers with barrel vault
On the opposite side of Hierapolis, next to the road leading to Laodicea, there was another necropolis. It is smaller than the northern one and much more seriously damaged by earthquakes. The burial traces found in its area are in the majority of cases in the form of simple, rectangular earth graves.