Hierapolis, whose name means "sacred city," was believed by the ancients to have been founded by the god Apollo. It was famed for its sacred hot springs, whose vapors were associated with Pluto, god of the underworld. The city also had a significant Jewish community and was mentioned by Paul in his Letter to Colossians. Today, Hierapolis is a World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination. In addition to interesting Classical ruins, the site offers a thermal Sacred Pool in which you can swim with ancient artifacts, a view of the spectacular white terraces of Pamukkale, and a good museum.
Usually said to be founded by Eumenes II, king of Pergamum (197-159 BC), Hierapolis may actually have been established closer to the 4th century BC by the Seleucid kings. The name of the city may derive from Hiera, the wife of Telephus (son of Hercules and grandson of Zeus), the mythical founder of Pergamum. Or it may have been called the "sacred city" because of the temples located at the site.
With Colossae and Laodicea, Hierapolis became part of the tri-city area of the Lycus River valley. Hierapolis was located across the river from the other two cities and was noted for its textiles, especially wool. The city was also famous for its purple dye, made from the juice of the madder root. The hot springs at Hierapolis were believed to have healing properties, and people came to the city to bathe in the rich mineral waters in order to cure various ailments.
Hierapolis was dedicated to Apollo Lairbenos, who was said to have founded the city. The Temple of Apollo that survives in ruins today dates from the 3rd century AD, but its foundations date from the Hellenistic period. Also worshipped at Hierapolis was Pluto, god of the underworld, probably in relation to the hot gases released by the earth (see the Plutonium, below). The chief religious festival of ancient Hierapolis was the Letoia, in honor of the the goddess Leto, a Greek form of the Mother Goddess. The goddess was honoured with orgiastic rites.
Hierapolis was ceded to Rome in 133 BC along with the rest of the Pergamene kingdom, and became part of the Roman province of Asia. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD but rebuilt, and it reached its peak in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Famous natives of Hierapolis include the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c.55-c.135 AD) and the philosopher and rhetorician Antipater. Emperor Septimus hired Antipater to tutor his sons Caracalla and Geta, who became emperors themselves. Hierapolis had a significant Jewish population in ancient times, as evidence by numerous inscriptions on tombs and elsewhere in the city. Some of the Jews are named as members of the various craft guilds of the city. This was probably the basis for the Christian conversion of some residents of Hierapolis, recorded in Colossians 4:13.
In the 5th century, several churches as well as a large martyrium dedicated to St. Philip (see "In the Bible," below) were built in Hierapolis. The city fell into decline in the 6th century, and the site became partially submerged under water and deposits of travertine. It was finally abandoned in 1334 after an earthquake. Excavations began to uncover Hierapolis in the 19th century.