According to 6th century AD geographer Stephanus of Byzantium, it was called Hierapolis ("holy city") because of its large number of temples. Principally a luxury resort town, it was known for its textiles.

Built on a plateau rising 150 to 300 feet above the Lycus river valley, Hierapolis was surrounded by mineral-laden hot springs famed for their healing properties, which made it a popular resort and healing center. As water from the hot springs flowed down the steep hill below the ancient city it lost carbon dioxide, leaving behind stepped layers of white limestone, from which its modern name, Pamukkale (Turkish "cotton castle"), is derived.

hierapolis white cliff

In 133 BC, the last king of Pergamum, Attalus III, died and in accordance with the terms of his will Hierapolis came under the rule of his Roman allies. Attalus had no heir and wanted to prevent a war over control of his kingdom. In 129 BC the city became part of the newly formed Roman province of Asia.

Hierapolis (along with Sardis and other cities in the region) was substantially destroyed by an earthquake in 17 AD, during the reign of emperor Tiberius, requiring it be rebuilt. Another earthquake leveled it and neighboring Laodicea in 60 AD, during the reign of Nero, and it was again rebuilt. During the Roman period it became one of the most prominent cities in the field of the arts, philosophy and trade in the Roman empire. The town grew to 100,000 inhabitants and became wealthy. Below, drawing of the city in the 3rd century AD, with streets laid out at right angles.

hierapolis reconstruction as it appear at its peak

Hierapolis had a significant Jewish population, as indicated by numerous inscriptions on tombs and elsewhere in the city. Some of the Jews were named as members of the city's craft guilds. The church in Hierapolis probably began among the Jews and like the Christian communities in neighboring Colossae and Laodicea, resulted from the missionary activity of Epaphras of Colossae (Colossians 4:12-13) working under the direction of Paul at the time of his extended stay (2 years, 3 months) in Ephesus during his third missionary journey. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, states that Epaphras "has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis." There is no record that Paul ever visited the city. This is the only mention of Hierapolis in the Bible.

Touring Hierapolis

Hierapolis has extensive ruins: city walls, theater, temple of Apollo, baths, paved streets, gates and a well-preserved necropolis ("city of the dead"). Most of what you see today is from the Roman period, as the earlier Hellenistic city was destroyed by the aforementioned earthquakes. Below, Google Earth view of the Hierapolis site.

google earth view of hierapolis site

Below, The south Roman baths, now the Hierapolis Museum. The Hierapolis baths were among the largest in Asia Minor, allowing up to a 1000 patrons at one time. People from distant regions came to soak in the warm mineral water and seek healing for arthritis, skin diseases and other physical ailments.

Roman baths

Below, the Hierapolis Museum displays many of the remains from Hierapolis, including coins, jewelry, sarcophagi, architectural fragments, statues and relief's.

Pamukkale museum display of reliefs

Near the museum is the Sacred Pool, warmed by hot springs and littered with fragments of marble columns. During the Roman period the pool was surrounded by porticoes but earthquakes toppled them into the water where they remain. Visitors are treated by a swim among the antiquities.

sacred pool

Temple of Apollo Lairbenos, the patron god of Hierapolis and, according to legend, the city's founder. All that remains (below) are the foundations, platform, several columns and entry steps. The monumental phase of the temple dates to the 1st century AD; it was renovated by the Romans (3rd century AD). Inside the sacred area of the temple was a Nymphaeum (monumental fountain dedicated to the nymphs). It dates from the 2nd century AD and distributed water to the houses of the city via a network of pipes, a constant reminder to the people that Apollo was their source of life.

apollo temple remains

The Apollo Temple exploited a natural phenomenon. Alongside and below the temple was an underground cave filled with poisonous gas known as the Plutonium (below) after Pluto (Greek Hades), the god of the underworld. It was believed to be an entrance to the place where Pluto lived. Poisonous gases emanated from the cave. Castrated priests of Apollo demonstrated their powers by going down into the cave with small animals (hens and rabbits). Apparently they knew that the gas (carbon dioxide) was heavier than the air and tended to settle in hallows. They crawled over the floor to pockets of oxygen or held their breath. The animals died but the priests were left unscathed. To the amazed people the priests of Apollo seemingly had power over death.

The priests sold birds and other animals to visitors so they could test the deadly gas themselves. For large sums of money visitors could question the priests or priestesses who, under the influence of the vapors, uttered prophecies, providing another considerable source of income for the temple.


Below, Hierapolis cardo maximus, the city's main north-south street, looking south toward the Byzantine period gate. The structure with columns on the left was a public latrine. 

hierapolis cardo maximus

Below, close up view of the Byzantine gate at the southern end of the Cardo.

hierapolis byzantine gate

Below, the Frontius or Domitian Gate at the north end of the Cardo, built by Julius Frontius, proconsul of Asia (84-86 AD) and dedicated to Domitian, the emperor at the time Revelation was written. Domitian was one of the first emperors to declare himself to be a god. In a sense anyone who entered the Domitian Gate was acknowledging that Domitian was god, their provider and protector whom they would honor and obey above all others.


Another prominent feature of Hierapolis is its theater. The city's first theater was constructed to the northeast above the northern gate, when the ancient city was destroyed by the 17 AD earthquake. After the 60 AD earthquake, a new theater (remains below), with seating for 15,000, was hollowed out of the slope of a hill further to the east during the reign of emperor Titus using the remains of the old theater. It was altered twice afterward during the reigns of emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus. Like all theaters, that in Hierapolis communicated through its architecture as well as its activities the devotion of the people to their gods and goddesses. One can still see the images of gods and goddesses carved on the stones in the stage area. 360° views of the Hierapolis theater

hierapolis theater

On either side of the old road to Sardis is a necropolis ("city of the dead"), one of the largest and best-preserved cemeteries in all of Turkey.�Most of the some 1200 tombs date from the late Hellenistic period, but there are also a considerable number from the Roman period and early Christian times. The dead were buried in different types of tombs reflecting their social status:

  • Simple graves for common people.
  • Sarcophagi, some raised and resembling houses; most decorated with relief's and covered with inscriptions giving the deceased's name, profession and praising their good deeds.
  • Circular mounds with domed roofs.
  • Larger family graves sometimes resembling temples.


house tombs

tumuli tombs

Below, part of the extensive terraces created by the flow of the mineral-laden hot springs

hierapolis hot spring terraces

Below, White calcified pools with stalagmites on the hillside below the site of Hierapolis.

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 Hierapolis, just 6 miles to the south, was famous for its curative hot springs.

hot spring terraces

On the eastern outskirts of the city, above the theater, is the Martyr of St. Philip (below), an octagonal building erected on a square (180-feet on a side). According to tradition, Philip (either the evangelist or apostle) lived in Hierapolis with his three daughters. He was crucified upside down after converting the wife of the proconsul of Hierapolis. The domed structure was built early in the 5th century AD on the supposed site where Philip was martyred.