Roadway, Northern Necropolis of Hierapolis

Roadway, Northern Necropolis of Hierapolis

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Hierapolis (Ancient Greek: Ἱεράπολις, lit. "Holy City") was an ancient city located on hot springs in classical Phrygia in southwestern Anatolia. Its ruins are adjacent to modern Pamukkale in Turkey and currently comprise an archaeological museum designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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 a relief depicting 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,[clarification needed] including the bath, library, and gymnasium.

Hierapolis, Turkey History

There’s been a settlement at Hierapolis – Pamukkale since 190 BC when Eumenes II founded the city of Hierapolis. After reading the material at Pamukkale about how many diseases and afflictions the water flowing down the terraces can heal, it’s little wonder that visitors have come here for centuries. It was a prosperous city, no doubt due to all the spa tourists heading here in the hope of cures for various ailments.

The city was name after the wife of the hero Telefos, “Hiera” – and the name Hierapolis means sacred or holy city. It was famed for the sacred hot springs, the steam and airs of which were associated with the God of the underworld, Pluto. There is even reputed to be a sealed off cave with toxic air that leads to, its said, the underworld.

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While traces of Hierapolis can be found back to the Hellenistic period (323 BC to 31 BC), it was completely ruined in 17 BC by a strong earthquake. Hierapolis was then rebuilt by the Romans and had what’s called its Golden Age. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD it became a popular living area in the summer for Roman elites.

During Byzantine times (the years 330 to 1453) Jews and Orthodox Christians formed the majority of the population, however, the area was prone to earthquakes. It was finally abandoned in 1334.

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History & Background

It is home to the famous hot springs called Pamukkale which were used as a spa where many wealthy patrons retired and died there since 2nd century BC. As a result of its fame as a retiree center, the necropolis hosts more than 1200 graves including the one of the St. Philip.

The name Hierapolis (literally Holy City) by which the site is known in archaeological literature stems from the temples and numerous other structures of a religious nature that are to be found here.

The precise region to which Pamukkale belonged in ancient times is a matter of some debate. Ancient writers themselves were unable to decide whether the city was in Lydia, Phrygia, or Caria.

St. Paul refers to the city as being in the southwest near Phrygia and close to the Carian border. He adds also that it was northwest of the city of Colossae. According to Strabo and Ptolemy, it was a Phrygian city like Laodicea and Tripolis, which bordered on Caria, owing to its proximity to them.

The Byzantine author Stephanus refers to the place as lying between Lydia and Phrygia. Stephanus adds that the city was a holy place and that there were many temples in its vicinity but that they had ceased to function during the reign of Augustus.

We lack any definite information about the name of this site before Hellenistic times. It is said however that there was an early settlement here and reference is made to the existence of the sacred cave known as the Plutonium and to the Magna Mater cult practiced there.

It would appear that the city was founded by King Eumenes II of Pergamon in the 2nd century BC and it is possible that the city took its name from Hiera, the wife of Telephos, the legendary founder of Pergamon. It is most probable that the sacred cave called the Plutonium was the kernel around which the city grew up in Hellenistic times. The oldest inscription found on the site is that of a decree issued in honor of King Eumenes' mother, Apollonia.

In 133 BC, the city was bequeathed, along with the entire Pergamene kingdom, to the Romans by King Attalos III. The region, which is notorious for its seismic activity, has long been subject to devastating earthquakes. One occurred in 17 during, the reign of Tiberius, and flattened Hierapolis. Another serious earthquake occurred in 60, during the reign of Nero but this one proved to be the occasion for rebuilding and renewal of the city. Other earthquakes occurred during the reigns of Antonius Pius and Alexander Severus.

It experienced the height of its prosperity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. During this period, the city underwent a complete rebuilding and lost all traces of its Hellenistic character becoming thoroughly Roman in its style. Ancient sources indicate that the city flourished during these years, that it was advanced in the arts of working metal and stone, and that it was famous for its woolen textiles (carpets and fabrics) and flowers. It was endowed with rich deposits of polychrome marble that was quarried and exported. The city is believed to have been visited during the Roman period by the emperors Hadrian and Caracalla.

The city continued to prosper during the reign of Constantine the Great, who made the area the capital of the Phrygian region. The new Christian faith spread rapidly through Pamukkale, aided perhaps by the presence of a large Jewish community that lived there. Nevertheless, it was in Pamukkale that the apostle Philip was martyred in 80. During Byzantine times, it was the seat of an episcopal see and it was then that a big church was erected in St Philip's name.

Towards the end of the 12th century, the Seljuk Turks captured the area but their tenure was short-lived and the city was retaken by the Byzantines. It was not until the 14th century that Byzantine control finally came to an end and thereafter there is no information that would indicate the city was inhabited.

Historically, it is difficult to distinguish between Hierapolis and the city of Laodicea (modern Denizli) nearby since Roman and Christian's historians alike tend to regard the former as a religious-center and thermal-spa adjunct of the latter.

The earliest reports by European travelers about the ancient city of Pamukkale and its thermal springs are from the late 17th century and are in the form of brief references by J. Spon, G. Wheler, and T. Smith. In the early 18th century, the site was visited by R. Pococke, who wrote about the buildings he saw here, particularly the theater and the nymphaeum (the latter of which he incorrectly identified as a temple to Apollo).

R. Chandler, an archaeologist, visited this ancient health center of Pamukkale accompanied by an architect and artist in 1764 which enabled him to provide us with more edifying information about the city in his book Reisen in Kleinasien, published in Leipzig in 1776. In 1838, De Laborde made drawings of the theater and in 1839, Charles Texier published details of the reliefs of the Hierapolitan monuments for the first time. Charles Tremaux also did drawings of the theater's reliefs and of his reconstructions of the skene and cavea gallery.

While the scholarly works on the area were published by W.M. Ramsay, F.J. Davis, and A. Choisy among others, the first significant work - one that retains its fundamental importance even today - is Altertümer von Hierapolis, published by C. Humann, C. Cichorius, W. Judeich, and F. Winter in Berlin in 1898.

Regular excavations at Pamukkale were taken up in 1957 by a team under the direction of Paolo Verzone. Italian archaeologists are presently engaged in excavation and restoration work at the site under the direction of Daria de Bernardi Ferrero.

The Plan Of Hierapolis

  • City Baths
  • Christian Basilica
  • Colonnaded Street
  • Modern Swimming Pool And Casino
  • Monumental Fountain
  • Temple Of Apollo
  • Theater
  • Martyrium Of St. Philip
  • Building In The Form Of A Basilica
  • Byzantine Gateway
  • Colonnaded Street
  • Arch Of Domitian
  • Baths / Basilica
  • Necropolis
  • Pluto's Gate

The Ruins

Located on a high plateau formed of travertine cascades, it was built according to the so-called Hippodamos grid system in which streets run parallel to one another and intersect at right angles. The city occupies an area of 1.000 by 800 meters in size. Since virtually the entire Hellenistic city was laid waste, most of the ruins still visible are from Roman times.

The Main Street and City Gates

The main street of the city measures nearly a kilometer long and divides the city in two. It runs roughly north and south and arrayed along either side were colonnades and important public buildings. At either end are the city's monumental gateways, which were erected during Roman times. The gates are in the form of victory arches flanked by towers: at the southern end is the Southern Byzantine Gate, a four-towered structure dated to the 5th century at the northern, is a triple victory arch with round towers on either side. In the frieze above the gate is an inscription in Latin and Greek dedicating the monument to Emperor Domitian and it is because of this that the structure is referred to as the Arch of Domitian. In fact, it was erected by Julius Sextus Frontinus, the Roman proconsul of Asia in 82-83 and is, for that reason, sometimes called the Arch of Frontinus as well. At the place where the main street leading from this gate south into the city is intersected by the later-period wall is a third gate dated to the 2nd century that is called the Northern Byzantine Gate.

City Walls

In the late 4th century, the northern, southern, and eastern sides of the ancient site were encircled by a defensive wall that was built of materials scavenged from earlier structures. The area they enclosed corresponds almost exactly to that of the original Hellenistic city of Pamukkale. The walls are now largely in ruins. They were reinforced by twenty-four square towers and, in addition to the two monumental gates, two smaller entrances have been identified. The northern and southern gates are connected by the city's main street the smaller gates provided access to the Martyrion, the eastern necropolis, the aqueduct, and the city's cisterns.


It contained two city baths. The first and larger of the two is encountered today when one approaches the site. It is in quite a good state of preservation with its massive walls, some of its vaulted chambers, and even, here and there, examples of the marble facades still in place. The layout of the bath is typical of those of Asia Minor. At the entrance is a large courtyard followed by an enclosed, rectangular area with large halls located on either side. This is followed by the bath proper in which a series of rooms with pools are arranged leading one into the next. The pool rooms have large, wide windows. The outer limits of the entrance courtyard have not yet been determined. The rectangular area was the bath's palaestra. The two large halls branching off from it, one to the north and the other to the south, were reserved for the emperor and for ceremonial use. The long hall stretching along the palaestra was undoubtedly used for athletics and gymnastic exercise. The caldarium, tepidarium, and frigidarium are roofed with vaults.

The heat was provided by furnaces. The central hall was heated by two of them from which hot air was conducted by pipes in the walls to the rooms. The sunlight coming through the big windows would also have provided additional warmth for the rooms and the pools.

The ruins of this bath complex are dated to the 2nd century. A small, vaulted room adjoining the main hall now does serve as a museum.

In the early 3rd century, a second city bath was constructed at Pamukkale outside the northern gate. During the early Christian period (probably in the 5th century) this structure was converted to a church. There are indications that this bath was covered with barrel vaults that its rooms were faced with marble and that the inner surfaces of the vaults were finished with stucco.

Aqueducts & Fountains

Two aqueducts - simple channels cut through the surrounding hills - provided the city with drinking water. One of these is located to the north between Pamukkale and Karahayit while the other is to the east in the direction of Guzelpinar. The stone slabs that covered them over may still be seen in place. These channels joined in a filtration chamber built on a hill east of the city and from there the water was carried by earthenware pipes to the city streets. Small pipe networks distributed water to buildings.

To exploit the city's abundant sources of water, large monumental fountains were built in the area. These structures contained monumental facades with columns and basins. Three of these fountains have been found at Pamukkale. They contained a rectangular pool enclosed on three sides by a facade of columns which, as was the case with theater skenes, were generally in two different architectural orders.

The largest nymphaeum is located at the entrance to the city and presumably was intended to provide water to caravans passing by the city. In the 4th century, the fountain became incorporated into the newly-constructed city wall and the so-called "Byzantine Gate" was added. Traces of its rich decorative elements from the period of the Severus emperors can still be made out. There was a second, smaller nymphaeum located in the center of the city. The third nymphaeum is from a later period and is rather well preserved. It is located within the peribolus (enclosure wall) of the Apollo temple and the materials employed in its construction were scavenged from elsewhere. The fountain is richly decorated and must have been built in the late 3rd or early 4th century.

Religious Activities & The Apollo Temple

The most important deity recognized at Pamukkale was Apollo, though his sister Artemis and his mother Leto were also worshipped. Artemis, in particular, was revered as more than merely a representation of the original Greek goddess of the hunt: the goddess of Ephesos is also encountered in the form of Artemis and the non-indigenous Greek gods at Hierapolis were also worshipped with their local titles and attributes.

The new temple to Apollo was built over a cave called the Plutonium, a cavern of religious significance and a cult center of great antiquity. According to popular legend, Apollo met here with Kybele, the Anatolian mother goddess.

An excavation team discovered the mouth of the Plutonium in 1964. The entrance, framed by a semi-circular vault of marble, leads to an underground cavern from which poisonous gases emerge. Strabo tells us that the priests made use of these vapors to stage "miracles".

Coins and inscriptions indicate that the people of Hierapolis worshipped Greek as well as native Anatolian gods. Among these deities were Dionysos, Herakles, Men, Euposia, Tyche (the city's patron goddess), and Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance. While the remains of the Apollo temple's upper structure date no earlier than the 3rd century, the foundations go back to late Hellenistic times. The temple must have measured about 20 by 15 meters but, because the remaining materials are so meager, they provide us with little information about the structure. The temple precinct was approached by a broad flight of steps. Today only the remains of the temple's pronaos and cella are to be seen and before them, parts of the peribolos.


The theater whose remains are visible today was most likely built during the reigns of the Flavius emperors, a period of rebuilding at the area that followed the earthquake of 60. It replaced an earlier theater that was located to the northeast. The newer theater is located to the east of the Temple of Apollo and is the best-preserved ancient structure at Hierapolis. Excavations carried out here have unearthed numerous statues and reliefs. It is one of the very few examples in Anatolia of a theater whose original decorative elements have been found more or less in situ. The theater auditorium is set against the hillside and about thirty rows of its seats are still preserved. The auditorium is divided by a double diazoma and could accommodate fifteen to twenty thousand people. The theater's cavea and skene are from the Flavian emperors an inscription found in the cavea gallery would indicate that it is from the reign of emperor Hadrian. The skene underwent modifications during the reign of Septimus Severus when the foundations of the stage wall were reinforced and a columned facade was added. The richly-ornamented skene had five doors in its facade and five niches before which were located ten columns adorned with marble decorations carved in the shape of oyster shells.

The skene underwent a restoration in 352 at which time the theater's orchestra was most probably converted into a great pool for mock naval combats.

The two materials-limestone and marble-that were commonly used in Hierapolis architecture were employed in the theater. The city's inhabitants are reported to have engaged in a great effort to contribute to the completion of the structure but, owing to the lavishness of the decorations, many parts of the ambitious project were left uncompleted.

Athletic & Artistic Activities

As was the case in other flourishing cities in Roman Asia, sports activities at Hierapolis served as a propaganda device and were an expression of the city's fidelity to the Roman state. Local sports events were organized in honor of Emperor Augustus and we also know that athletic competitions were held once every four years in honor of Apollo, the city's chief god, to which events such as running, boxing, and wrestling were added in later years. Representations of these games begin appearing on city coins minted from the middle of the 3rd century onward. Inscriptions indicate that, in addition to athletic competitions, literary and musical contests were also held and that the victors of these were awarded metal crowns.

Training for athletic meets took place in the gymnasium. Artistic contests were held in the theater while sports events took place in the stadium, a structure that is referred to in an inscription from the 1st century but that has not, as yet, been found by the excavation team.

The most significant of the Hierapolitan monuments dedicated to athletic events is in the form of a relief discovered in the center part of the theater stage where Emperor Septimus Severus and his family. are shown watching sacrificial and award ceremonies accompanied by the city's tutelary deities and other individuals involved in athletic activities.

Martyrion of St. Philip

This martyrion, located outside the city wall, is an imposing octagonal building dating to the late 4th or early 5th century. It is built on a square measuring 20 by 20 meters. This monument-tomb was erected in honor of St Philip, who is believed to have been martyred in Hierapolis. After Christianity became the state religion, the site of the saint's martyrdom became a place of pilgrimage. The actual grave of St Philip has not yet been discovered.

The building is approached by a broad stairway. There are rooms on four of the sides. Before two of the sides are porticos. There are eight chapels separated from one another by polygonal rooms. The building's outer rooms connect to a central chapel and octagonal area. The building thus has the shape of a double cross. The central area measures about 20 meters in diameter and was originally covered with a dome of lead plates set on a wooden frame. The sides were covered with brick vaults interspersed with wooden roofs.

This martyrion and the other religious buildings at Hierapolis are of importance in that they are indicative of the progress of Christianity at Hierapolis.


In the center of the city are the remains of a 6th-century cathedral, a "pillared church", and two other churches. In addition, the central hall of the Great Baths was also converted to a church at the beginning of the 6th century. There also exist a few small chapels in the northern quarter of the city.


The Hierapolis necropolis is one of the best-preserved ancient cemeteries in Turkey. The main necropolis is located outside the city's walls and gates extending for about a kilometer on either side of the road beyond the Arch of Frontinus. On the eastern side of the road beyond the southern gate is a smaller necropolis that has suffered substantial earthquake damage.

The northern acropolis contains sarcophagi, various types of tombs, and funeral monuments dating from late Hellenistic to early Christian times. The materials employed are limestone and marble through the latter is used more often in sarcophagi. The tombs may be divided into three principal types: sarcophagi, tumuli, and house-shaped tombs. Most of the sarcophagi bear inscriptions and some contain decorative reliefs in which the occupant is sometimes depicted.

The tumulus tombs are circular mounds with a small narrow, passage connecting to a round, vaulted chamber inside. Tumuli of this kind date from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD and are common throughout Anatolia and Thrace.

The house-shaped tombs are built with walls arranged in a square or rectangular house-like plan.

The great variety of tombs in the necropolis is related to the identities of their occupants when they were alive: burial sites were allotted not only to the wealthy and famous but to the merely ordinary as well. Some of the funeral monuments were intended to be family plots and thus are larger. The inscriptions include the name and profession of the deceased and the good works and charities he (or she) performed while alive, after which pleas and testaments are common.


The Agora is located east of the main street connecting the Arch of Frontinus to the "Northern Byzantine Gate". The remains of the monumental structure built of marble may be seen along the eastern side of this area measuring 200 by 130 meters and now lying below two meters of sand. To the west, are the meager remains of a small Byzantine settlement. Near the houses is a large kiln that can be dated to the 6th or 7th century. It was built atop a marble portico and in the course of its building, the underlying structure suffered damage. The large building on the east with a semi-columned facade of Ionic capitals decorated with large masks and garlanded elements has been restored. Originally this building was reached from the square by a stairway two meters high. The dimensions of the buildings and the richness of their construction indicate that this extensive area must have been the Hierapolis agora.

Destination Pluto: New Horizons by NASA

Before anything else, this has been the gate to the underground world, to the world of the dead. A fatal gas, leaking from a deep slit which kills anyone breathing, has been linked with the underworld gods and was named as Plutonium. It was believed that a river called Styx was separating our world from the underworld and the help of Charon, a boatman, was needed to get across the river. However, Charon’s service was not free, and that’s why gold coins were placed in between the teeth or in the eyes of the dead for that they can pay for their last travel. Kerberos, on the other hand, was the guard dog of the underworld.

According to The Roman Historian Strabo, who personally came to see the Plutonium the leaking gas was so intense that it was impossible to see the ground as the fatal gas entirely would cover it. Bulls let down the hole to be sacrificed to these Gods were immediately tumbling down as they feel the breath of the gods of death- the deadly gas.

However, only the priests of the Mother Goddess Cybele had immunity against this gas. With their long French braid hair which well-match with their long cloaks and silver rings completed with their tattoos covering their body, those priests were castrating themselves for the Goddess who was believed to be the very source of this immunity. By getting down to the deadly hole where no creature could survive, those priests were proving their immunity stemming from the Mother Goddess.

The city's Economic Life

Philostratus, writing in the middle of the 3rd century, says that it was one of the most flourishing cities of Asia Minor. Indeed, notwithstanding the earthquakes from which the city suffered and a plague in the 2nd century, Hierapolis's prosperity rose steadily from its founding until the end of the late Imperial period.

Mention has already been made of the use of the waters of the thermal springs in fixing the colors of dyed wool and of the resulting trade activity that this led to as well as of the quarrying exportation of local deposits of polychrome marble. While no local evidence has been found concerning the city's marble trade, literary works from the Byzantine period refer to the fine quality of marble and mention its use in the construction of the Constantinople Haghia Sophia and in the sarcophagi of a number of emperors.


Archaeological investigations have shed light on the manufacture of pottery at Pamukkale. Wares intended for every-day use were produced in local workshops. A small quantity of painted and decorated ceramics were imported. Pamukkale craftsmen, however, did produce small vases and oil lamps of high quality for ritual use. There are thousands of different examples of such wares produced by local artisans using local material from the 2nd century BC to the 6th century AD. Before the construction of the agora in the area near the Arch of Frontinus, there were ateliers and kilns in which craftsmen produced a type of pottery called "Megarian bowls" in which flowers and plants, as well as mythological figures and scenes, were executed in relief.

Hierapolis – A City of Water and Belief

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 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 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 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

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

Rosemarie John

Travel and Beyond by Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis portrays a kaleidoscope of all things travel related mixed with just the right dosage of history and culture.


Marble quarries exploited in antiquity of the Denizli and Karacasu Basins (Turkey) were characterized by their petrography, carbon and oxygen isotopes, and cathodoluminescence. This study is an useful contribution for provenance studies of archeological artifacts composed of unknown marble. Marble quarries from the Hierapolis, Laodikeia, and Aphrodisias territories were considered they constitute a homogeneous group of marble extraction districts. Collectively, they were among the most important sites for marble exploitation throughout antiquity from southwestern Anatolia, where only Afyon and Ephesus, which have already been studied extensively, were more important. In spite of that, the exportation of these marbles in ancient times has not yet been demonstrated. This is partially because their identification has never been fully addressed scientifically.

Petrography, isotopes, and cathodoluminescence techniques used together are effective in discriminating among the study marbles. This could facilitate the determination of the provenance of these marbles in local monuments and artifacts. However, it could be difficult to determine the marble provenances in cases where a larger set of possible provenances should be taken into consideration.

"Sometimes You Have to See, to Believe"

Turkey > Hierapolis

We continue with our delightful stroll along the main street of Hierapolis, the ancient Greco-Roman city founded 2nd century BC, taking in all the sights and real history it has to offer.

To my left a fantastic view of the plain, the same fertile land the Greeks and the Romans lorded over some 2000 years ago.

Definitely not Roman, but a nice juxtaposition to the awesome history around it.

We amble over to the Northern Gate, just like the Southern Gate, a Byzantine structure from late 4th c. AD.

To my left, something interesting. This used to be a Roman drain, but after almost two thousand years, the minerals in the spring water which it carried were slowly deposited, and solidified to form a sort of raised water conduit.

I am on the main street of Hierapolis, called Frontinus Street, first laid in 1st c. AD, with original width 14m. Then in 5th-6th c. additional buildings were built, narrowing the street to just 8m wide. The pillars seen below are facade of the Nymphaeum of Tritons, a monumental fountain of the Roman period, built 3rd c.

We approach the Southern Gate — as significant as the Northern Gate we used to enter the city earlier. Fortification by the Byzantine Romans.

Sometimes we just have to wander among the ruins to try to appreciate the whole thing, something somewhat unimaginable.

Quite narrow this Southern Gate, and that’s the outer city out there.

We pass through the gate and glance back for its outside view.

The northern part of Frontinus Street lies ahead, with ruins of various structures flanking it, normally porticos, collonades, shops and amenities.

To the left, what’s left of some stately buildings.

And something interesting on the right, and we are approaching it.

It’s a communal latrine complex, 2000 years old.

Of course back then there were toilet seats with holes and running water — it must have been a respectable and comfortable establishment.

Imagining life as a Roman, after easing myself in luxurious setting, I would step out of the latrine to cross busy Frontinus Street, and to enter a shopping area via its stately porticos.

Looking lonesome, a Corinthian column, Greek from before Jesus’s time, I think.

Out of the latrine, back on Frontinus Street and another gate — Domitian Gate. This is probably the border of metro Hierapolis of Phrygia.

Past Domitian Gate and another busy signage to guide present-day visitors.

Just outside Domitian Gate and Hierapolis proper, the Basilica Bath — initially a 3rd c. bath complex to cleanse and purify people entering the city of Heirapolis, later converted into a church. Even in the old days, the Greeks and Romans were very particular about the hygiene of their cities.

Beyond the Basilica Bath, an intriguing area of any major Roman city – the necropolis or ‘City of the Dead’. Hierapolis has two large ones, and we are in the Northern Necropolis. It’s full of sarcophagi, made of limestone or marble. They are simply stone boxes to put dead bodies in, normally above the ground. It’s quite a surreal sight!

Sarcophagi litter the landscape, but now in ruins, thanks to grave robbers, and earthquakes.

In Hierapolis, a Roman is not buried in death, but placed in a sarcophagus. Some of the dead’s possessions were placed together with the body, for use in the afterlife I guess.

And thus robbers and thieves were greatly attracted.

All the sarcophagi were broken into and desecrated — the contents all gone, even the remains of the dead.

Important or wealthy citizens would have elaborate crypts or vaults for their sarcophagi. Even then, the odour of rotting corpse would permeate the air, so some scented plant or substance were put inside the sarcophagi to counter the stink.

This must belong to a very important family, with the sarcophagi of subordinates placed atop the crypts.

At last we arrive at the end of Frontinus Street in Northern Necropolis. There’s a car park some distance behind me, it’s very cold and drizzling, so we make a dash to our waiting vehicle there.

Now you can imagine how a visitor arrives at Hierapolis from the north. First he has to pass the huge cemetery, then cleanse himself at the bath before passing the Domitian Gate. There’s a latrine just after the gate in case he needs to ease himself. Then he enters Hierapolis proper via the Northern Gate. Such is a typical Greco-Roman city of 2000 years ago. Very advance indeed.


Excavation team
Ahrens, Sven &ndash field director
Brandt, J. Rasmus &ndash project leader (present only last week of the excavations)
Meyer, Reidar &ndash student archaelogistSven Ahrens
Institute for Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo.

Figure 1. Click on the image to view a larger version

The following report can only be preliminary. It intends to give a summary of the works carried out in the 2007 campaign. Works on the catalogue of monuments of the Eastern Necropolis are in progress and the catalogue cannot be included in this report. Neither can the final drawings and vector graphics be attached. Drawing work will not be finished before spring 2008 (here included as Fig. 1).

1. Background
The Missione Archeologica Italiana di Hierapolis, MAIER, suggested the Eastern Necropolis of Hierapolis as an area of research for Norwegian excavations. The area has hardly ever been investigated before and there is little published information obtainable. (This does not apply for the inscriptions, which have partially been published in several studies). For this reason our aim for the 2007 season was twofold. On the one hand enough information on the area and its monuments should be gathered to be able to plan future campaigns. On the other hand we wanted to become acquainted with the practical circumstances of excavation works at the site to be able to assess the funding, the effort and the expenditure of time of our future campaigns. Thus we planned initial registration work in the area to get an idea of the amount of monuments and the areal premises of the site. We also planned to conduct smaller excavations to understand the working conditions on the site, the infrastructure of the MAIER and to get a basic knowledge of find material and soil in Hierapolis.

2. Team and period
The Norwegian team consisted of Sven Ahrens (excavation supervisor) and Reidar Meier (site assistant). Prof. Rasmus Brandt (project leader) visited the works and the site between the 8th and the 12th of September. The investigation was planned for a four weeks period. We arrived in Hierapolis on the 18th of August. The director of MAIER, Prof. Francesco d&rsquoAndria took us on a brief inspection tour of the site on the 19th of August. At this occasion a Byzantine graveyard was discovered. We used the first two days to get to know the Italian projects and the teams. Registration works started on the 22nd of August and lasted until the 27th. The preparation of the excavation of the Byzantine cemetery started on the 28th, excavations started on the 3rd of September and lasted until the 14th (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Click on the image to view a larger version

3. The survey
The survey was conducted in the first and the beginning of the second week (22.08.07-27.08.07). We chose to focus on the upper part of the necropolis slope and registered tombs and sarcophagi using the site map of the Hierapolis project as a basis. We found a significant number of tombs or remains of tombs which were not or just partially registered and made preliminary descriptions of their location in relation to already registered tombs. The registration is meant to deliver information on monuments types, the number and distribution of monuments on the site and possible areas of activity for next years season. The results and a monument catalogue will be compiled after the 2008 season.

4. Excavation of the Christian cemetery
4.1 Site and priorities
The Martyrium of Hierapolis is situated on a large, truly partially artificial terrace. The terrace seems to be heaped up over parts of the Eastern necropolis. On the southern side of the Martyrium proticus, directly in front and below it&rsquos stylobat another terrace is situated stretching roughly from north-west to south-east sloping gently down towards the procession stairs on its east side. An about two meter high batter separates the upper and the lower terraces. Several rectangular or oval stone settings were visible on the surface already before excavation. These structures have a clear east-west orientation and are consequently Christian.
The batter of the Martyrium terrace is the northern limitation of the cemetery. Most of the structures are clearly visible on the natural surface, but all traces of the cemetery disappear on its western side towards the steep slope of the Eastern necropolis. The cemetery seems to stretch down the slope on its southern side. Tombs are also visible in the area of the southeastern corner of the Martyrium porticus where Roman sarcophagi mark the edge of the cemetery. A several meter long wall of rough stone in this area could have been the enclosure wall of the site or the retaining wall of the cemetery terrace.
Our aim was to clear a part the area and document the cemetery with drawings to get a better idea of its structure. We also wanted to study some of the burials in detail to be able to make some dating proposals.

4.2 Method and documentation
Lacking any kind of surveying equipment, we set up a right-angled rectangular quadrant (10 to 23 m) with nails and cords. It followed the terrace parallel to the south side of the Martyrium stylobat. The quadrant was divided lengthwise into two halves. We set up 3 fixed-points (302: 2356.026 5207.663 431.791 303: 2335.647 5221.959 432.925 304: 2343.133 5227.063 433.172), which were leveled with a total-station by the team from Turin. The whole site was drawn first and then cleaned from plants and superficial stones. The southern half was then excavated and drawn again. Two tombs (tomb 8 and 29) were chosen for excavation. Finally we leveled the whole excavated area with a leveling device. The elevations in the site map refer to point 304 with a height of 433,172 m above sea level.

4.3 Progress
We started drawing the Christian cemetery on the 28th of August. We chose a quadrant of 10 x 23 meters and drew the whole surface situation before the cleaning. The drawing process lasted until the 31st. Excavation on the site started on the 3rd of September first with the help of two workers, then after two days with three. The sod and the topsoil were removed to a depth between 5 and 10 cm in the southern half of the quadrant. The inside of the tombs was treated with special care in order not to remove any stones belonging to the original tomb construction. However all stones laying on the surface were removed. Additionally the inside of some tombs in the northern half of the quadrant were cleaned of grass and stones on the surface. During this process a number of tombs were discovered, which were invisible before the cleaning. The tombs were numbered. We have now a catalogue about 37 tombs or probable tombs. All numbers given in the catalogue and the site map are preliminary numbers and will be changed after the 2008 campaign. The cleaning could be finished on the 6th of September. We were drawing the new situation of the area on the 10th and 11th of September. We chose tomb number 8 for deeper excavation and dug from the 12th to the 13th.

The burial was missing completely. Afterwards we dug the tomb until the bottom of the framing stone setting and made an even deeper window in the western part without getting more information on the date of the tomb. Four bone-samples were taken for analysis in a laboratory in Lecce. We dug tomb 29 as well until the supposed bottom and found the tomb completely destructed.

Watch the video: Necropolis of Hierapolis (September 2022).


  1. Donat

    uraaaaaaa waited for a thank you even for such quality

  2. Caflice

    Radically wrong information

  3. Bransan

    You are rights.

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