It was suffocatingly still. And silent.
We started walking up a wide road, lined with what looked like crumbling little cottages. The asphalt seemed out of place, the heat bouncing off it in waves and enveloping us in a disquieting haze. Peering into a doorway, spooked by my own shadow, it was evident these structures were never meant for the living.
We had expected to walk through the city of Hierapolis, but it turned out our guide had decided to do it in reverse, through the Northern necropolis, set out like a miniature city with over 1200 tombs in every shape and size – tumuli, sarcophagi and house-shaped – from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods! And this is just one of three cemeteries surrounding the city!
Hierapolis meaning ‘Sacred City’ was founded in the 2nd century and started out as a thermal Spa, due to its proximity to the Pammukale hot springs. Thought to be named after a Phrygian temple dedicated to Hieron and/or Hiera the wife of the founder of the Attalid dynasty, Hierapolis became a healing center, and by the 3rd century was elevated to one of the most prominent cities in the Roman empire, with a population of over 100,000.
Judging from the number of tombs in the necropolis, I suspect the healing powers of the thermal springs is subject to debate. The ‘antique’ pool where Cleopatra is thought to have bathed, is now a tacky swimming pool inside a local hotel, so awfully overrun with people, we didn’t even venture close.
The apostles Paul and Philip preached and propagated Christianity in Hierapolis, and Philip is alleged to have been martyred here by crucifixion in 54AD. The site where he was buried is marked with a structure known as the Martyreum. Doubts persist about whether this was actually Philip the Apostle or Philip the Deacon who came much later. (On 27 July 2011 however, Turkish archaeologists claimed to have found the tomb of Philip the apostle within a newly excavated church in Hierapolis!)
Devastated by frequent invasions and earth quakes, and rebuilt several times over the centuries, the city was eventually abandoned in the 14th century. and buried in limestone deposits from the hot springs, until excavations began in 1887.
The dazzling white travertine terraces next door in ‘Pammukale’ or ‘cotton castles’ are formed by deposits of carbonate minerals from the hot springs. The deep turquoise thermal pools are nothing short of breathtaking.
Hieropolis/Pammukale is usually combined with Ephesus and Pergamom. While her ruins are admittedly not as magnificent as those of her sister cities, the necropolis is the largest in Anatolia and possibly all of the Mediterranean. And considerably less frequented than the hot springs.
If you consider cemeteries sombre and boring you might want to skip Hierapolis. My interests on the other hand border on the ghoulish, even if I am – sometimes – scared of my own shadow.