Hierapolis – A City of Water and Belief

by Rosemarie John on April 23, 2013

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Hierapolis.  A city where the ancient people believed was founded by the god Apollo. A Hellenistic city that focused on its natural sources of thermal waters. A city so vast that brought about the visit of St. Philip in his mission to spread Christianity. Eventually crucified upside down at Hierapolis under the persecution of the Roman emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96), Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale) is still famous for its travertines, hot springs and ancient Greek ruins and tombs till this day.

“Hurry up along!” shouts our guide as we walk down the stretch of Necropolis (The city of the Dead). Flanked by limestone tombs on both sides of the uneven pathway, it was interesting to view the different kinds of funerary buildings and graves that extended for over two kilometres. As we were on a tight schedule, we hurried along past the Necropolis to enter the city through the Northern Roman Gate.

We passed the agora, baths, baths that were converted into churches, and latrines which were a sign of prestige for a city. Yes, having public toilets denoted the wealth and power of a city back then. Once out through the North Byzantine Gate, walking pass the remnants of the Nymphaeum of the Tritons (a monumental fountain), did we realize how beautiful the city must of been in its heyday.

Though we missed the ruins where a magnificent cathedral once stood and the ruins of the Martyrion of St. Philip, it would be interesting to note how Christianity eventually took hold in the city as the official religion in the 5th century AD. Hierapolis is only mentioned once in the Bible, when St. Paul praises Epaphras, a Christian from Colossae, in his letter to the Colossians.

The city ultimately fell into decline in the 6th century, and the site became partially submerged under water which eventually created deposits of travertine. Hierapolis was finally abandoned in 1334 after an earthquake. However, excavations soon began to uncover Hierapolis in the 19th century.

The thermal waters were directed to the gleaming white travertine terraces where visitors can submerge their feet in. The layers of white calcium carbonate, built up in steps on the plateau, gave the site its name –  Pamukkale meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish.

During winter, as visitor numbers reduce, the water supply is turned off at certain areas. However, those who still care for a warm dip, can do so at Cleopatra’s Sacred Pool. Filled with old marble ruins, this pool is said to be one of the numerous spa baths that existed during Hierapolis’ position as a Healing Health Centre centuries ago.

An unreal landscape, made up of limestone ruins, mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins makes the end of a rather quick walkabout through Hierapolis a truly memorable one.

The beginning of the largest necropolis in Anatolia

The beginning of the largest necropolis in Anatolia

The necropolis has 1,200 tombs of various types, including tumuli, sarcophagi and house-shaped tombs from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods. Some have Jewish inscriptions.

The necropolis has 1,200 tombs of various types, including tumuli, sarcophagi and house-shaped tombs from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods. Some have Jewish inscriptions

The road leading to the main city.

The road leading to the main city

The Northern Roman Gate was the main gate to the city during the Roman period. This gate led to Laodicea and Colossai.

The Northern Roman Gate was the main gate to the city during the Roman period. This gate led to Laodicea and Colossai

The latrine is situated on the left side of the Northern Roman Gate

The latrine is situated on the left side of the Northern Roman Gate

The Nymphaem of the Tritons was built at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century AD on the main street. All that is left are the pillars.

The Nymphaem of the Tritons was built at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century AD on the main street. All that is left are the pillars

The hot springs at Hierapolis (which still attract visitors today) were believed to have healing properties, and people came to the city to bathe in the rich mineral waters in order to cure various ailments.

The hot springs at Hierapolis (which still attract visitors today) were believed to have healing properties, and people came to the city to bathe in the rich mineral waters in order to cure various ailments

A few of the latrines which have thermal waters still channelled to it despite the Winter season.

A few of the latrines which have thermal waters still channelled to it despite the Winter season

The beautiful landscape that confronts you when you reach the travertines.

The beautiful landscape that confronts you when you reach the travertines

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

denizlihotel April 23, 2013 at 12:19 pm

This place is amazing. I have been there three times and it still amazes me. There’s nothing like this in other countries, so Pamukkale is quite unique. There is also an ancient city called Hierapolis at the top of Pamukkale, which is also stunning. And 15 minutes from Pamukkale there’s a natural thermal hot spring in Karahayit, which is also nice to see. So If you guys have the opportunity, you should really visit Denizli (town) in Turkey. You will be stunned by the natural beauty of this city.

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Charu April 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Wonderful information…I had no idea public toilets were considered a mark of prestige. The Romans had that wellness thing all figured out! Lovely photos too, Rosemarie.

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Anna @ shenANNAgans March 11, 2016 at 4:00 pm

I am so desperate to visit Turkey, it just seems like such a magnificent part of the world.
Cotton castle is a very fitting name for this place too. Did you dip your toes in?
Anna @ shenANNAgans recently posted…Raw Vanilla Coconut Fig SliceMy Profile

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