DESTINATIONS

Hierapolis (Pamukkale)

 

Hierapolis, whose name means "sacred city," was believed by the ancients to have been founded by the god Apollo. It was famed for its sacred hot springs, whose vapors were associated with Pluto, god of the underworld. The city also had a significant Jewish community and was mentioned by Paul in his Letter to Colossians.

Today, Hierapolis is a World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination. In addition to interesting Roman ruins, the site offers a thermal Sacred Pool in which you can swim with ancient artifacts, a view of the spectacular white terraces of Pamukkale, and a good museum.

 

In the Bible

 

Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the Bible, when St. Paul praises Epaphras, a Christian from Colossae, in his letter to the Colossians. Paul writes that Epaphras "has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis" (Colossians 4:12-13). Epaphras was probably the founder of the Christian community at Hierapolis.

 

Ancient tradition also associates Hierapolis with a biblical figure, reporting that Philip died in Hierapolis around 80 AD. However, it is not clear which Philip is menat. It could be Philip the Apostle, one of the original 12 disciples, who is said to have been martyred by upside-down crucifixion (Acts of Philip) or by being hung upside down by his ankles from a tree.

 

Or Philip could be Philip the Evangelist, a later disciple who helped with administrative matters and had four virgin-prophetess daughters (Acts 6:1-7; 21:8-9). Early traditions say this Philip was buried in Hierapolis along with his virgin daughters, but confusingly call him "Philip the Apostle"! In any case, it seems a prominent person mentioned in Acts did die in Hierapolis.

 

What to See

 

Long before you arrive in Hierapolis, you can see the gleaming white travertine terraces of Pamukkale, located next to the ruins of Hierapolis. The extraordinary effect is created when water from the hot springs loses carbon dioxide as it flows down the slopes, leaving deposits of limestone. The layers of white calcium carbonate, built up in steps on the plateau, gave the site the name Pamukkale ("cotton castle"). Unfortunately, but understandably, visitors are no longer allowed to walk on the terraces in order to protect them from damage.

 

A good place to start your tour is the small but excellent Pamukkale Museum, located near the parking area and housed in part of the south Roman baths (early 2nd century BC). The displays are presented attractively and include signs in Turkish and English. The collections include coins, jewelry, sarcophagi and architectural fragments among other items; the highlights are the statues and reliefs.

After the museum, there is a lot to see among the ruins of Hierapolis. Most of what you see today is from the Roman period, as the original Hellenistic city was destroyed by successive earthquakes in 17 AD and 60 AD. The site is surrounded by Byzantine walls, outside of which is an extensive necropolis.

 

Nearest the museum is a complex that includes the Sacred Pool, a colonnaded street, and a basilica church. The Sacred Pool is warmed by hot springs and littered with underwater fragments of ancient marble columns. Possibly associated with the Temple of Apollo, the pool provides today's visitors a rare opportunity to swim with antiquities! During the Roman period, columned porticoes surrounded the pool; earthquakes toppled them into the water where they lie today.

Behind the Sacred Pool is the nymphaeum, a monumental fountain that distributed water to the city. Dating from the 4th century AD, it has been partially restored. Three walls surround a basin of water, which was approached by steps on the open side. Statues filled the niches in the walls. [More Info]