Located on a high plateau formed of travertine cascades, Hierapolis 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.
In the late 4th century, the northern, southern, and eastern sides of Hierapolis 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. 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.
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.
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 service as a museum.
In the early 3rd century, a second city bath was constructed at Hierapolis 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 and 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 Karahayıt
while the other is to the east in the direction of Güzelpınar. 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 Hierapolis. These structures contained monumental facades with columns and basins.
Three of these fountains have been foul-id at Hierapolis. 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 and the Apollo temple
The most important deity recognized at Hierapolis 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
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 approach 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 peribolus.
theater whose remains are visible today was most likely built during the reigns of the
Flavius emperors, a period of rebuilding at Hierapolis 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 statue's 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 the 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
Athletic and 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
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
Martyrion of St. Philip
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
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
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 though 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 on a square or rectangular
The great variety of tombs in the Hierapolis 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 Hierapolis agora is located east of the main street connecting the Arch of
Frontinus to the "Northern Byzantine Gate". The remains of 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.
The city's economic life
Philostratus, writing in the middle of the 3rd century, says that Hierapolis 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 Hierapolis marble and mention its use in the
construction of the Constantinople Haghia Sophia and in the sarcophagi of a number of
Archaeological investigations have shed light on the manufacture of pottery at
Hierapolis. Wares intended for every-day use were produced in local workshops. A small
quantity of painted and decorated ceramics were imported. Hierapolis craftsmen however did
produce small vases and oil lamps of a 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.
- Anatolia - A World Heritage - P. 142ff.
T.C. Ministry of Culture
Views of Hierapolis and