The Gate to Hell gave the Oracle at Delphi a run for her money.
If you’re looking for a hot bath and visit to the edge of hell, you can plan a spa night at home topped off by this week’s episode of The Walking Dead or you can pack your household and make a pilgrimage to the Plutonion.
The ancient temple complex dedicated to Pluto, Greek god of the underworld, was built around a cave emitting fumes so toxic that small animals can barely pass by without dropping dead and prolonged exposure easily kills large animals and people – even today.
Roman and Greek commentators of the time referenced the strange site at Hierapolis (in modern Turkey). Hierapolis’ hot baths and temples attracted people from around the known world for healing and worship, making it one of the ancient Mediterranean’s most popular destinations. But the city was destroyed by repeated earthquakes in the first century CE and eventually shut down as a pagan sanctuary by Christian Rome in the sixth century.
Archaeologists searched for years to confirm the Plutonion’s existence. “We found the Plutonium [its Roman name] by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring,” Francesco D’Andria, leader of the archaeological team, told Discovery News.
Like its famous sister, Delphi, the unique geology of the site provided its mystical power. Underground springs – hot springs, in the case of Hierapolis – running over rocks and minerals produced the intoxicating fumes, considered to be supplied by the gods. The temple was built to manage the gate to hell responsibly.
The Plutonion’s priests – the Eunuchs of Cybele – conducted animal sacrifices for spectators sitting on banks of steps above the low gate, which was constructed around the mouth of the deadly cave. Because they were able to enter and leave the cave safely while their sacrificial animals died, the priests were presumed to have special powers or the protection of their patron god Pluto.
Meanwhile, pilgrims who slept near the temple reported prophetic visions, not unlike those experienced by the Pythia at Delphi. But – beware! – approaching the Gate of Hell no doubt meant a speedy death for the average person.
Now, here’s the cheese on this Brain Burger.
3 things to do in Hierapolis when you’re dead (from exposure to the Gate of Hell):
- Stop by the famous shawarma cart for a gyro that’s to die for!
- Pick a fight with the biggest, baddest eunuch you can find – what’s the worst that could happen? You’re already dead!
- Take pictures – we all want to know if the doorstep of hell looks like our in-laws’ front stoop at Thanksgiving.
Chris Everheart is author of the YA thriller
- Delphi: Goats to Gods (chriseverheart.com)
- Ancient Future Shock (chriseverheart.com)
- Ancient ‘Gate to Hell’ Uncovered in Turkey: Pluto’s Portal to Underworld (latinospost.com)
- Scientists reportedly discover gate to hell (cynsworkshop.wordpress.com)