The Discovery of the Gate to Hell Guardians
In March last year, a group of archaeologists in Turkey made a spectacular discovery – the Gate to Hell , also known as Pluto's Gate, which was known in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition as the portal to the underworld. As if that was not enough, the remarkable finding was soon followed by the discovery of two unique marble statues which acted as guardians for the deadly cave.
The ‘Gate to Hell’ which marked the entrance to a cave in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, near Pamukkale, has certainly lived up to its reputation. According to ancient accounts, the cave “is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death,” wrote the Greek geographer Strabo (64-63 BC to about 24 AD) “I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.” According to Francesco D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology, who led the team that made the discovery back in March, these descriptions were accurate. The cave was described in historic sources as filled with lethal mephitic vapors and this appears to be true. It is no wonder the cave was provided with guardians to warn off any unsuspecting visitors.
The two guardian statues represent mythological creatures. "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," said D’Andria.
In the previous excavation, the archaeologists also found the remains of a temple, a pool and a series of steps placed above the cave – all matching the descriptions of the site in ancient sources. Dozens of lamps were also unearthed from in front of the cave opening, providing testament to the popularity of the site in ancient times, which was an important destination for pilgrims. People watched the sacred rites from steps above the cave opening, while priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto. The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead.
A reconstruction of bulls being dragged into the gate of hell for sacrifice. Image source .
According to D'Andria, pilgrims slept close to the cave and received visions and prophecies, in a sort of oracle of Delphi effect. This account is also most likely true as the fumes coming from the groundwater in the cave would have produced hallucinations.
These discoveries are incredibly significant because they show, once again, that the so-called myths of our ancestors were not just fanciful stories but were based on true experiences that were explained according to the language and understanding of the time.
Featured image: The guardians discovery at Hierapolis. Photo source .