What little we know of Colossae comes from the study of coins and related materials, and the comments of ancient writers. Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BC) listed it as a "large city of Phrygia" and Xenophon (also 5th century BC) mentions it as a large and prosperous city. But, in Hellenistic times competition arose from Laodicea and Hierapolis, and by Paul's day Colossae's importance had diminished. The majority of the population was Phrygian, but the letter to the Colossians supposes the presence of a Jewish colony. In 62 BC at least 11,000 adult male Jews lived in the district, with Laodicea as the capital. These were descended from the 2,000 families transported from Babylon in about 213 BC by Antiochus III.

The church in Colossae

The Colossian church, which was predominately Gentile, was not founded by Paul, but by Epaphras, possibly one of Paul's converts during his extended stay in Ephesus (2 years, 3 months). Epaphras, a native of Colossae, also preached in neighboring Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 1:7-8; 4:12-13). Colossae was home to Paul's companions Archippus and Philemon, also to his very dear sister, Appia, and to Onesimus. Paul's letters to Colossae and Philemon, also Ephesus, were delivered by Tychicus, a disciple and traveling companion.

Although Paul sent two letters — Colossians and Philemon — to Colossae, he may not have visited the city: "I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally." (Colossians 2:1)

Paul hoped to visit the city after his release from house arrest in Rome and asked Philemon to prepare lodging for him: "And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers." (Philemon 22)

Given the biblical significance of Colossae it is surprising that its site has never been excavated. The ruins of the city are visible on the south bank of the Lycus. Surveys have revealed remains on the acropolis, a defensive wall and a pit lined with stones to the west, a theater on the east side and a necropolis (city of the dead or cemetery) to the north of the Lycus River.

Colossae mound satellite view

Above, Google Earth view of the long-abandoned, and thus far unexcavated, Colossae acropolis. The one outstanding feature is the theater carved into the east slope. The lower city was on the surrounding plan.

Mt Cadmus behind Colossae

Above, Colossae was situated in the west foothills of Mount Cadmos.

Road sign showing way to Colossae

Above, battered direction sign pointing the way to the Colossae site.

Colossae mound in its setting

Above, looking north toward the mound of Colossae with modern Honaz beyond.

Approaching the Colossae mound

Above, at the base of the Colossae mound; the dormant grapevines in the foreground are on the site of the lower city.

Climbing up the slope of the Colossae mound

Above, ascending the slope of the Colossae mound.

View from Colossae mound

Above, view east from the Colossae mound.

Another view from the Colossae mound

Above, another view from the top of the Colossae mound. Visitors can sift through the dirt and uncover small pottery remnants.

Line of long-gone walls on colossae mound

Above, line of walls, long gone, that once enclosed Colossae's upper city.

Colossae Theater site

Above, site of the former theater carved into the east slope of the Colossae theater.

Above, another view of the Colossae theater with less vegetation revealing the scant remains of the seats.

opium popies on the Colossae mound in May

Above, Opium poppies growing on the Colossae mound in May.

Lycus River near Colossae

Colossae was situated on the Lycus River (above) not far from its junction with the Maeander. John, in his letter to the Laodicea church (Revelation 3:14-22), speaks of their lukewarmness, that they were "neither cold nor hot" (v. 15-16). This allusion would have been clear to citizens of Laodicea, who were well-aware that the cold refreshing water of its near neighbor Colossae came from snow-and-rain-fed streams that rushed down from the peak of nearby Mount Cadmus.