By Rossella Lorenzi
Published April 01, 2013
A digital illustration shows the ancient Plutonium, celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology. (Francesco D'Andria)
A “gate to hell” has emerged from ruins in southwestern Turkey, Italian archaeologists have announced.
Known as Pluto's Gate -- Ploutonion in Greek, Plutonium in Latin --
the cave was celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman
mythology and tradition.
Historic sources located the site in the ancient Phrygian city of
Hierapolis, now called Pamukkale, and described the opening as filled
with lethal mephitic vapors.
'Any animal that passes inside meets instant death.'- Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC -- about 24 AD)
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“This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can
scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant
death,” the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC -- about 24 AD) wrote.
“I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell,” he added.
Announced this month at a conference on Italian archaeology in
Istanbul, Turkey, the finding was made by a team led by Francesco
D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento.
D'Andria has conducted extensive archaeological research at the World
Heritage Site of Hierapolis. Two years ago he claimed to discover there
the tomb of Saint Philip, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ.
Founded around 190 B.C. by Eumenes II, King of Pergamum (197 B.C.-159 B.C.), Hierapolis was given over to Rome in 133 B.C.
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The Hellenistic city grew into a flourishing Roman city, with
temples, a theater and popular sacred hot springs, believed to have
“We found the Plutonium by reconstructing the route of a thermal
spring. Indeed, Pamukkale' springs, which produce the famous white
travertine terraces originate from this cave,” D'Andria told Discovery
Featuring a vast array of abandoned broken ruins, possibly the result
of earthquakes, the site revealed more ruins once it was excavated. The
archaeologists found Ionic semi columns and, on top of them, an
inscription with a dedication to the deities of the underworld -- Pluto
D'Andria 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.
“People could watch the sacred rites from these steps, but they could
not get to the area near the opening. Only the priests could stand in
front of the portal,” D'Andria said.
According to the archaeologist, there was a sort of touristic
organization at the site. Small birds were given to pilgrims to test the
deadly effects of the cave, while hallucinated priests sacrificed bulls
The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead.
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“We could see the cave's lethal properties during the excavation.
Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening,
instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes,” D'Andria said.
Only the eunuchs of Cybele, an ancient fertility goddess, were able to enter the hell gate without any apparent damage.
“They hold their breath as much as they can,” Strabo wrote, adding
that their immunity could have been due to their "menomation," “divine
providence” or “certain physical powers that are antidotes against the
According to D'Andria, the site was a famous destination for rites of
incubation. Pilgrims took the waters in the pool near the temple, slept
not too far from the cave and received visions and prophecies, in a
sort of oracle of Delphi effect. Indeed, the fumes coming from the
depths of Hierapoli's phreatic groundwater produced hallucinations.
“This is an exceptional discovery as it confirms and clarifies the
information we have from the ancient literary and historic sources,”
Alister Filippini, a researcher in Roman history at the Universities of
Palermo, Italy, and Cologne, Germany, told Discovery News.
Fully functional until the 4th century AD, and occasionally visited
during the following two centuries, the site represented “an important
pilgrimage destination for the last pagan intellectuals of the Late
Antiquity,” Filippini said.
During the 6th century AD, the Plutonium was obliterated by the Christians. Earthquakes may have then completed the destruction.
D'Andria and his team are now working on the digital reconstruction of the site.
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/04/01/gate-to-hell-found-in-turkey/#ixzz2PFy6WbjX