The city of dead ghosts

Our hotel in Pamukkale was very helpful. The chap at the front desk drove us up to the north entrance to Hierapolis, and brought the car back. The plan was that we would just walk through the ruins and down the white cliffs back to the hotel. From the plateau here we could look down on the graben of the Büyük Menderes. Spring was in full bloom here, a phrase I’d not really appreciated until I took the featured photo. It turned out that from here we had to walk through a large Necropolis to reach the gates of ancient Hierapolis, and the cliffs which were our main target.

Ancient Greek and Roman funeral customs centered on cremation. From Homeric poems we know that the denial of cremation was shocking in archaic Greece. We also know from written laws of the early Classical period that these cremations were to be performed outside of city walls in areas called Necropoli. The custom of burial of the whole body began to become more popular from about the 1st century CE, with the spread of Christianity. So I suppose that most of what one sees in the Necropolis today comes from this later period.

The beginning of the path we were to take passed many individual sarcophagi, coffins made of marble. I suppose these came from well after the founding of Hierapolis during Seleucid times. As we went further we began to see larger structures within which these sarcophagi were placed. Apparently they are family graves. Some of them had been reduced to a few stubs of wall. Others still stood almost complete. Some were extremely elaborate, with multiple rooms containing many sarcophagi. Others, like the one in the photo above, had just one room with a couple of sarcophagi.

Hierapolis was never a big town. It was mainly a spa, and in later times became known as a center for healing because of a large number of doctors. The size of the Necropolis perhaps has more to do with the inevitable failure of medicine than with the extent of the town. Much later I recalled that the town had been destroyed by two major earthquakes, one in 19 CE and the other in 60 CE. So my guess that most of the graves came from the 1st century CE and later had another leg to stand on.

I’d never seen a tumulus before, so when I came across this low circular structure I was quite surprised. One part of the Necropolis holds many tumuli. Some of them, possibly all, have a little opening at the bottom in which I could see steps leading down. A large dose of Indiana Jones movies seen at an impressionable age has made me wary of climbing down into such places. Apparently the tumuli here contain multiple graves.

The place is so ancient that even ghosts, if there were ever any, must have left. I hadn’t realized how large this Necropolis would be, so I’d not researched it before coming. Otherwise I would definitely have wasted some time trying to find the sarcophagus with the oldest known illustration of a crank and a wheel. Soon we passed the last of these graves and came to the gate of the city.