Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hierapolis, stepchild of Pamukkale

Tourists flock by dozens of busloads to visit the thermal springs of Pamukkale, which in Turkish means  “cotton castle”, hardly aware of the existence of Hierapolis

As the spring water is cooling in contact with the air, it leaves behind a thick coat of travertine that sets in the shape of basins cascading all the way downhill. It appears like a giant white scar in the landscape. Visitors loved to wade through these basins, trampling the fragile formation and polluting the mineral waters, with catastrophic results as even hotels were being built right on top. Luckily the government put a stop to these practices and hotels have been dismantled while visitors are now generally ushered over wooden boards laid over the inviting basins.

For me, this is the first time I hear of Hierapolis, an ancient city half swallowed by or integrated into the travertine deposits of Pamukkale. Upon arrival, I catch a first glimpse of the many impressive sarcophagi alongside the road, the largest concentration of Anatolia.

Hierapolis, meaning “sacred city” was founded by Eumenes II, King of Pergamon in 190 BC, and was famous for its woven fabrics, mainly wool. Like so many cities in the area, it surrendered to the Romans in 133 BC. However, a large part of the city was destroyed during the earthquake of 60 AD but most of it was rebuilt afterwards, and Hierapolis prospered once again reaching its apogee between 196 and 215 AD. By 395, The Byzantines took over and it was still known for its gladiator fights till it was abandoned in the 6th century and a good part of the buildings disappeared under the travertine formations.

The necropolis I saw upon arrival is huge and counts no less than 1200 sarcophagi and tombs built in the shape of Roman houses mostly, but others date from earlier Hellenistic or later Christian eras. I’ve never seen such a large concentration! A city by itself!

Old Hierapolis is a little further down the road, where the Arch of Domitian leans against a thick round fortification tower. From here the 14 feet-wide colonnade street, the so-called Plateia, runs straight ahead for about 1,500 meters. To the left are the remains of the Agora leading to the antique theatre with high crooked walls ready to tumble down any moment since the earthquake of 60 AD. The large Theatre at the other end of town dates from 2nd century AD and once seated 20,000 people. Although only about thirty tiers of seats remain, it is worth to admire the Baroque stage that has been recently restored. In the upper part of the stage reliefs of Septimus Severus and his wife Julia were found. It seems this Roman Emperor loved Hierapolis and contributed to building this very theatre whose architecture is said to be unique.

Nearby we find the poor remains of the Nymphaeum with the adjacent pool which might be the only testimony of the Temple of Apollo. This site was abandoned after the earthquake of the 7th century and the marble portico collapsed into the spring waters. Today’s visitors are welcome to swim between these idyllic marble columns among luxuriant flowers and bushes of pink laurel. What a setting!

Because of the hot springs, Hierapolis was a popular health centre in Roman times when literally thousands of people bathed in one of the fifteen baths, each seeking one that was appropriate for his/her health problem.

From down here I try to take in the site. There is still a lot of excavation work to be done in this large city. Lots of antique artifacts must be simply for the taking as I see no fence or surveillance, while the locals freely swarm out over the site with their embroidered pillow cases, crocheted napkins, postcards and booklets as if they own the place. Well, in a sense they do, of course, but I would expect some stricter control over an archaeological site.

I climb to a higher point among the ruins, basically to get away from the noisy crowds. I reach the sturdy walls of Philip’s Martyrium, a church built in de 5th century on the alleged spot where Apostle Philip was stoned and crucified upside down in 80 AD. All along the outside of the church runs a corridor where the pilgrims could find a room for the night. The square Martyrium measures no less than 20 x 20 meter and in its centre lays an octagonal rotunda surrounding a crypt that for years stayed connected with the apostle. Excavations in 2014, however, have located Philip’s gravesite in a 1st-century Roman tomb at the centre of a new Christian church, some 40 meters away. This church was built around the very tomb in the 4th/5th century.

[This picture is from Archaeology News Network]

Excavations are still ongoing at Hierapolis and in 2013, a unique head of Aphrodite was found, clearly dating from the Hellenistic era based on the hairdo and the facial features. More marble sculptures were unearthed and all have been moved to the nearly Hierapolis Archaeology Museum.

About the same time, the statue of a 1.5 meter-high marble Cerberus was found. He was the mythological three-headed dog who guarded the entrance to the underworld or Hades, the so-called Gate of Hell. It was discovered thanks to the remains of small birds that appeared to have fallen dead at the mouth of a cave spewing deadly carbon dioxide fumes. Apparently Cicero visited this very cave in the 1st century BC and reported the phenomenon. Sparrows but also bulls fell dead at the entrance of the cave. Beside this Cerberus, archaeologists found a huge marble serpent, another mythical guardian of the entrance to the after-world.

Wait and see what else the archaeologists will discover in the future.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful pictures, especially of the nyphaeum and martyrium.

    I was curious about one thing you mentioned about your trip. You mentioned the statute of Cerberus and a serpent that were found in a cave. I never knew about the story of Cicero visiting Hierapolis or about the cave. Were you able to get any pictures of the cave or of the statues?

    1. Lovely to hear that you enjoyed my pictures.
      To answer your question, I have not visited this cave as I picked up this story after my visit. This is the link I used:
      As to Cicero, it seems at one time he was governor of Hierapolis (renamed Laodike).