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1091x0x Hierapolis

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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    Aug 2, 2004
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      [See photographs of Hierapolis at:
      http://www.pamukkale.gov.tr/hierapoliseng.htm ]

      x0x Hierapolis

      By Nermin Baycin

      Thermal spring water steeped in calcium oxide patiently shaped the
      extraordinary white travertines of Pamukkale over thousands of years.

      In this fairytale setting of cascading white terraces and pools of
      water stands the ancient city of Hierapolis, one of the most
      magnificent cities of Hellenic and Roman civilisation and famed
      throughout the Mediterranean region. The ancient city features a main
      street lined by colonnades and galleries, a theatre seating ten
      thousand people overlooking the valley of the Curuksu River (the
      ancient Lycos) against a backdrop of snowy peaks in the Babadagi and
      Honaz ranges, baths with frigidariums and caldariums, imposing public
      buildings, and one of Anatolia's largest necropolises.

      Pamukkale and Hierapolis are a unique site, protected under the UNESCO
      World Heritage List. Apart from the natural and man-made wonders
      already mentioned, Hierapolis is distinguished from other ancient
      cities by the gods and goddesses worshipped here.


      To these deities representing the fundamental needs of human beings
      and the geographical features of the earth were attributed the origins
      and fortunes of the city. Pluto, god of the underworld gave to
      Hierapolis its health giving waters and beauty, while at the same time
      instilling fear with his powers of destruction, and the mother goddess
      Cybele (the Roman Demeter) granted fertility. In this sacred city
      other deities and immortals of myth like Persephone, Attis, Leto,
      Apollo, Artemis and Dionysus all played a role in the natural cycle,
      beginning with the seeds of life concealed underground to rebirth
      above ground, the transition from winter to spring, and the growth of
      crops to maturity and harvest.

      Strabo of Pontus (63 BC- 21 AD) gave this description of one of the
      most celebrated features of Hierapolis: 'Facing Laodicea is
      Hierapolis. Here there are hot springs and a plutonium... At the foot
      of a fairly high hill is a pit of medium size just large enough for
      one person to enter.

      It is quite deep and surrounded by a rectangular railing. This pit is
      filled with such dense thick steam that it is difficult to discern the
      bottom. If people approach the railing the air is harmless, because in
      calm weather the steam is not dispersed, but anyone who passes inside
      the railings dies instantaneously.

      The plutonium mentioned by Strabo is a cave in the centre of the city
      from which poisonous fumes rise. This cave still exists today. The
      flight of steps descending into this holy place symbolises the door
      into the heaving and simmering underworld; the land of the dead from
      which there is no return. But for the inhabitants of Hierapolis, Pluto
      was also a god who brought prosperity by bestowing blessings from
      beneath the earth. Places of worship dedicated to Pluto were rare in
      the ancient world, and this plutonium was a sacred site which
      increased the celebrity of Hierapolis. Demeter, Persephone and Pluto
      were the principal protagonists in one of the most popular stories of
      ancient Greek mythology.

      In this story Persephone, the only daughter of Demeter who symbolised
      the fertility of the soil and crops, particularly wheat, was kidnapped
      by Pluto and carried off into the underworld. The story is depicted in
      the friezes of the theatre and on coins minted in the city.

      A statue of Attis found here and now displayed in the local museum
      refers to another myth about the transformation of death into life and
      abundance. When Attis sacrificed himself to Cybele violets sprang up
      on the spot where his lif'se blood had soaked into the earth. The
      theme of earth and abundance continues with another scene in the
      theatre friezes, this time concerning Adonis. The story of this youth
      with whom both Aphrodite and Persephone fell in love also ends with
      his transformation into a spring flower. Then there is Dionysus, god
      of wine, the vineyard and revelry. In the picture showing the harvest
      festival held in his name, he is depicted in the centre upon a chariot
      drawn by centaurs.

      Artemis, goddess of hunting and wildlife, was the twin sister of
      Apollo, the chief deity of Hierapolis, and another of the principal
      figures in mythological scenes. Apollo himself is represented by his
      temple on the terraces right above the plutonium, a location
      symbolising his position at the centre of the cycle between the
      underworld and earthly life.

      The oracular building uncovered this year at the sanctuary of Apollo
      by a team of Italian archaeologists is one of the most important
      discoveries regarding the sacred character of the city. Among the
      finds in this structure representing the oracular powers of Apollo,
      the most interesting are fragments of an inscription citing prophecies
      in alphabetical order. Those consulting the oracle pulled letters out
      of a bag under the watchful eye of the priests, and according to the
      prophetic texts symbolised by each letter the oracle pronounced upon
      their future.

      Hierapolis was founded by King Eumenes II of Pergamum in the 2nd
      century BC, and its health giving springs drew visitors to the city
      from far and wide. This prosperous city was also a prominent weaving
      centre. Under the Byzantines the city became a bishopric, and
      buildings dating from the early Christian period include a martyrium
      for St Philip, one of Christ's disciples, which is yet another of the
      many points of interest for visitors to Hierapolis today.

      * Nermin Baycin is an archaeologist