A modern depiction of the hellhound Cerberus.

Gate to Hell Guardians Were Used to Ward People Off Deadly Cave

(Read the article on one page)

The Gate to Hell, also known as Pluto’s Gate, was the Greco-Roman entrance to the Underworld. When archaeologists found an example of this sacred site in Turkey they also discovered two guardians who were meant to ward people off from the deadly cave - in the form of remarkable marble statues .

Statue of Cerberus found at Hierapolis, Turkey.

Statue of Cerberus found at Hierapolis, Turkey. ( Francesco D'Andria/ Antiquity Now )

The Gate to Hell in the Phrygian city of Hierapolis has been recognized as a deadly location. Ancient documentation about the cave at the site by Greek geographer Strabo claim it “is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death.” Strabo wrote, “I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”

Francesco D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology and lead researcher at the Gate to Hell in Hierapolis, claims the descriptions were accurate. The lethal mephitic vapors mentioned in the accounts truly existed. With that in mind, it isn’t surprising guardians were placed in front of the cave to ward off potential visitors from an untimely death.

The guardian statues found at the site are representations of mythological creatures. D’Andria said “One depicts a snake, a clear symbol of the underworld, the other shows Kerberos, or Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of hell in the Greek mythology.”

The statue of a snake rolled on itself – a symbol of the Underworld.

The statue of a snake rolled on itself – a symbol of the Underworld. (Francesco D’Andria/ It’s a Strange World )

Archaeologists have unearthed the ruins of a temple, pool, and steps above the cave at the site. These features match ancient descriptions of the Gate to Hell. Dozens of lamps were also found in front of the cave opening, showing that the location was once popular with pilgrims. These people would have witnessed sacred rituals from the steps at the cave opening. The ceremonies would have involved priests sacrificing bulls to the god of the Underworld, Pluto. The animals were led into the cave and then pulled out when they had died.

The ruins of the Ploutonion at Hierapolis.

The ruins of the Ploutonion at Hierapolis. (Ömerulusoy/ CC BY 3.0 )

D’Andria says that pilgrims slept near the Gate to Hell to experience visions or prophecies - in a similar way to what took place with the oracle of Delphi. Most likely this was due to the fumes arising from the cave causing hallucinations.

One of the elements we can take from these explorations is the fact that so-called myths of the ancients were not necessarily all fiction. The stories were often based on true experiences and real-world sites being explained through language and past worldviews.

Top image: A modern depiction of the hellhound Cerberus. Source: CC BY SA

By April Holloway

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The Pylos Combat Agate, an ancient object found in Pylos, Greece and created around 1450 BC.
The discovery of the Pylos Combat Agate in a Mycenaean shaft-grave tomb dating to 1500 BC may be one of the most significant archaeological and artistic finds in decades, perhaps in centuries. The level of artistic sophistication and detail are stunning -- the more so because the piece itself is so small and the level of detail is so incredibly high.

Myths & Legends

Human Origins

Sumerian creation myth
Sumer , or the ‘land of civilized kings’, flourished in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, around 4500 BC. Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and...

Ancient Technology

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Places

The public entrance to the Unicorn Cave.
Einhornhöhle, which may be translated as ‘Unicorn Cave’ in English, is a cave located in the Harz, a low mountain range in a highland area Northern Germany. It has been pointed out that the Unicorn Cave is the largest cave in the western Harz that is open to the public.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article