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Hierapolis, Phrygian City Of Cybele And Home Of Hades

Hierapolis, Phrygian City Of Cybele And Home Of Hades

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Cybele was the sole Phrygian Mother Goddess, acting as an interlocutor between the known and unknown, the living and the dead. As such, one of her chthonic cults was established at the Ploutonion or Pluto’s Gate at Hierapolis in ancient Anatolia, where her eunuch priesthood, called Galli, managed to negotiate the toxic vapors which enveloped the sacred precinct. Cybele is considered a ‘Mother of Gods and all beings’ and is interwoven in the history of Hierapolis, as the Greek and later Roman occupiers of the city assimilated her into their religions.  She is often depicted riding a chariot drawn by lions, or lions flanking her, reminiscent of the ancient Seated Goddess of Çatalhöyük (c. 6000 BC). Some of her celebrations included frenzied Phrygian dancing, beating the tympanon or tambourine and wild music, which were regarded as exotic foreignness, frowned upon by the Greeks and Romans, but accepted when coupled with Dionysian revelry or cloaked in Trojan ancestry. Her consort was Attis, who castrated himself, giving rise to the eunuch priesthood cult of Galli.

Cybele and Attis seated right, with Phrygian cap and shepherd's crook in a chariot drawn by four lions, surrounded by dancing Corybantes or Galli (c. 200–400 AD) Archaeological Museum of Milan (Giovanni Dall'Orto / Public Domain)

Hierapolis Healing City

Hierapolis, located in the Maeander valley south-west Anatolia, was established in the second century BC by Eumenes II, King of Pergamum, (ruled 197–159 BC) and according to legend he named it after Hiera, the Amazon queen of Telephus, the founder of Pergamum, but Hierapolis can also mean Sacred City due to the number of temples found there. There are no records to confirm the naming of the city, but it was custom for Hellenistic kings to name cities after their family members or ancestors, for example the Seleucid King Antiochus II (261-253 BC) founded and named Laodicea in Phrygia in honor of his wife, Laodice. Incidentally, Eumenes II sided with Rome against the Seleucids, which ended with Rome defeating Antiochus the Great in the Battle of Magnesia (December 190 or January 189 BC). The region of Hierapolis was assigned to Eumenes II of Pergamum after the battle. 

View of Pamukkale thermal cascades with ancient ruins of Hierapolis in the background (Image: © Micki Pistorius)

What makes this city so exceptional, is its thermal springs, caused by tectonic shifts, called Pamukkale.   Professor Fransesco D’Andria, chief archaeologist wrote: “ Pamukkale derives its name which means Cotton Castle from the white travertine deposits formed by the thermal springs.”  The soil is rich and fertile, as is evidenced by the surrounding valley of cotton fields.


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Dr Micki Pistorius has an honors degree in Biblical Archaeology.

Top Image:   Ancient city of Hierapolis with statue of Pluto in Pamukkale under dramatic skyalexlukin/ Adobe Stock)

By: Micki Pistorius

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Dr Micki

Micki Pistorius is a South African psychologist, author and journalist. As a child, Micki’s natural curiosity was cultivated by both her parents and developed into an insatiable interest in history, art and literature. Her passion for history, archaeology and human... Read More

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