Day 2 - The adventure continues!
After breakfast at our hotel, the Pamukkale Richmond Thermal, we headed out to the bus. Gökhan told us to get ready for a long drive of, oh, five minutes to our first site. After four hours or so on the bus yesterday, that was welcome news. So we spilled out at the archaeological site of Hieropolis--literally, "temple city"-- relatively fresh and ready for the day.
Hieropolis, in the province of Asia, overlooks the Lycus river valley. Across the valley there is a string of snow-covered peaks, and we had a spectacular view of these all through the day. We entered the site at the north end, walking through the largest necropolis ("city of the dead") that has been excavated in all of Turkey. Gökhan taught us to recognize the three types of tombs found here. The smallest of these were sarcophagi, stone boxes weighing a ton or two to hold one's earthly remains. There were also house-shaped tombs, for those who found a sarcophagus too modest, and tumuli, round stone drums fifteen feet or so across topped with a mound of dirt that in some cases had a symbol of male vitality as the crowning touch. Freud would have had a field day with these.
So we began the day being reminded of our mortality. We didn't have much time to linger in that momento mori state of mind, though. We soon came into the city proper, which we entered through the Domitian Gate, dedicated to the late-first-century emperor Domitian. The gate is a typically Roman display of majesty and splendor, as is the colonnaded street beyond it, the heart of the commercial district. We toured the latrine that's just inside the gate; as Gökhan explained its operation entailed stone seats, running water, and sticks on sponges. Nothing like a visit to a bathroom to lighten things up after a walk through the cemetery.
Dr. Mark Strauss, the Biblical scholar who is accompanying us, explained that Hieropolis is mentioned once in scripture, in Colossians 4:
"Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis." (v. 12,13)
Epaphras had apparently founded these churches, having been sent by Paul from Ephesus. Later in the day we would learn more about the churches in this region.
Next, though, we all took off our shoes! Fortunately, this wasn't a case of mass insanity. Instead, we were getting ready to walk on the travertines for which this area is famous (it's a world heritage site). Hieropolis is located on a hillside, and water from a mineral-rich thermal spring located there flows down the slope, creating terraces of white-stained rock covering several acres. We rolled up our pantlegs, entering the travertines from the top, and walked across the smooth (and in some places not-so-smooth) rocks and through the warm pools of water. More so than anywhere we've been so far, we mingled with tourists from throughout the world. I spoke to a guide leading a group from Malaysia, and there were plenty of other East Asians also in evidence.
Before leaving Heiropolis, we hiked up the hill to the ruins of a marvelous Roman theatre dating to the second century CE. The view of the valley and mountains was surely as spectacular as any entertainment that was offered here! Finally, before leaving Hieropolis we visited the Plutonium, which is not, as you might think, a radioactive element used in building bombs but the entry to the underworld, the realm of Pluto (Hades). At least that was the story going around in antiquity; more plausibly, it's a cave that emits poisonous vapors where animal sacrifices were offered. Since poisonous vapors could cause some modern-day visitors to visit the underworld more quickly than they had anticipated, the mouth of the cave has been sealed off, with only a breadbox-sized hole remaining from which only minimal vapors can be inhaled, should one wish to do so. If you put your ear rather than your nose to the hole, you can hear a faint gurgling sound, apparently a sign of some sort of underworldly activity.
We had lunch nearby, a buffet at the Seyir Restaurant. There was an expansive salad table, soup, a hot bar, and deserts. We still had the mountains in view as we ate, making for a very enjoyable mid-day interlude.
We went to just one more site today--the archaeological dig at Laodicea. Colossae is also nearby, but it hasn't been excavated, so visiting the mound of dirt at that site would have had minimal educational value. Laodicea has been excavated extensively, though, with considerable work still going on. It was a large city that became prominent because it was located at a strategic crossroads. The city was founded by the Seleucid king Antiochus II, who named the city after his wife. That sounds romantic, until you learn that they later divorced. Men, take note! Naming a city after your wife isn't enough to ensure marital bliss!
We walked through one of the city gates, down a colonnaded street to a temple known as "Temple A" since archeologists have been unable to identify what god was worshiped there. From the back of the temple area we had an excellent view over the valley to the white terraces at Hieropolis where we had been a few hours before. It was an wonderful site to have Gökhan teach us some distinctives about the city and for Dr. Strauss to teach us about the Biblical context regarding Paul's second and third missionary journeys, the prison letters, and the letter to Laodicea in the book of Revelation. In Revelation, John uses the characteristics of each city to which he writes in order to praise or correct that church. For Laodicea, those characteristics included wealth (John calls them poor), a local eye salve (to John, they are blind) and clothing made from a distinctive black wool (John says they are naked).
We had thirty minutes to explore Laodicea on our own, so we scattered throughout the site. There was so much to see! Two theaters, a stadium, baths, the water system, temples, etc. On a side street I found the clubhouse of the Greens, which, according to the sign, was a 4th-century chariot-rider club. Present day motorcycle clubs could claim these guys as forerunners!
Thirty minutes later (it was really forty, time having a certain degree of flexibility with us) we were back on the bus and headed back to the Pamukkale Richmond Thermal, where we will spend another night. There is a thermal pool here, as well as a Turkish Spa and massages. It looks like there's enough to keep us busy the rest of the day!