In Greek, Hierapolis meant Sacred City. Hierapolis was an extremely notable city in biblical times. The ancients who lived here believed the city was founded by the Greek god himself, Apollo. The city was famous for its hot springs, the vapors of which locals associated with the god, Pluto, ruler of the underworld. A significant community of Jewish people, as Paul mentions in the Bible in Colossians, also resided here.
It is thought that Hercules’ son, Telephus, named the city after his wife, Hiera. Because the name also stood for “sacred city,” it is possible the name was given because of the many sacred temples located within the site. Visitors were attracted to the city’s hot springs, which were thought to have strong healing powers. These hot springs are still an attraction today.
This ancient city was given to Rome, equaling the totality of the Pergamene Kingdom. In about 60 A.D., much of Hierapolis was destroyed. Locals rebuilt and the city saw its heyday in the second and third centuries.
Pluto’s Gate is also located here. The Pluto site consists of a hot springs pool, a temple, and a deep cavern thought to be the entrance to the underworld guarded by Pluto, hence its name. This cavern emits toxic gases that are swift to silence any passersby. In fact, around 2000 years ago, the temple sold birds or other smaller animals to support the costs of running the site, which the visitors could then use to test the power of Pluto.
Only the priests were allowed to stand at the opening, and while hallucinating because of the fumes, would sometimes sacrifice bulls or other large animals into the cave’s opening, pulling out the dead body later to awe the crowds.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Pluto’s Gate was discovered. Italian archaeologists reconstructed the path of an ancient spring and, while performing the excavations, noticed birds falling to their death after having flown too close to the gases emitting from the cavern, echoes of the past dramatically making the Gate’s presence known.
There are local trains to transport you to the ruins of Hierapolis, departing from Izmir taking you to Denizli, as well as one departing Istanbul late in the afternoon, arriving the next morning.